The University of Utah’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) cultural centers are key participants in supporting students and advancing institutional strategies aimed at providing an enriching experience for all students—particularly those from marginalized communities. The centers promote student belonging and guide students to achieve post-graduation success by elevating and creating spaces where students come to build community. The programs developed through the centers are set up to help students pursue further growth opportunities in graduate school or as they begin their careers.
Ensuring student success is incredibly important work—which is why it takes teams of dedicated professionals to do it well. Samantha Eldridge (Diné), the acting director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) explains that this is why the university has built the AIRC’s capacity and expanded their team. “We added two new positions, a program manager and program coordinator, to build new structures and grow programs that acknowledge the Native student experience and their connection to land, language, culture, and traditions,” she explains. “Our strategy is to weave Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and being into spaces, programs, daily practices, and operations of the institution while fostering student ties to their tribes and communities.”
She said among the center’s goals is to “elevate the visibility and presence of American Indian scholars on campus,” not just through the center but by creating spaces throughout the campus where students can feel welcome, seen, and validated.
“Our goal is to support students from when they first step onto campus all the way through graduation, but also support them in their professional development so they also have post-graduation success,” Eldridge added. Increasing access to higher education for indigenous communities is another key component of the center’s strategic plan, she said.
“For a lot of our prospective students, college is not accessible for many reasons, so we also need to support individuals when they’re not on campus,” she said. “Our job is to support students who may not see college as an option for them. We need to provide those pathways and reduce those barriers so they can see college as a viable option.”
Eldridge said attracting more Native students to campus and having them achieve academic success can eventually be a catalyst for positive change in the places those students came from.
“For Native students, one of the reasons they pursue college is because they want to return to their communities, to improve their communities, and to create better lives for their families,” she said. “When we think about family, it’s not just our immediate family—it’s really our whole communal family.”
To help support Indigenous students, Edridge says the university is creating even more opportunities for more Native students to return home to improve their communities. This is in addition to building more pathways for those students to attend college and graduate. And she adds that a final part of the plan the AIRC center is working on includes expanding its outreach to support not just students, but also faculty and staff.
“We think it’s important that our students see themselves represented in faculty, whether it’s onboarding or even supporting them in achieving tenure or training and supporting new knowledge and research,” Eldridge said. “Our center has expanded our services to include outreach to our tribal communities. We’re doing a lot more to strengthen our relationships with Utah’s eight tribal nations and really showing up to let them know that we’re here to support students and serve as a resource for them.”
To learn more about the American Indian Resource Center, visit the AIRC website—or subscribe to the EDI newsletter and blog to stay up to date on all upcoming events and opportunities from university resource and cultural centers.