“I’m Navajo and I’m originally from Shiprock, New Mexico. I grew up in a remote area on the reservation in a home where there was no electricity and water. We had a bookmobile that used to come around and visit our community once a month. That was a really exciting time because I really enjoyed reading. Reading different books provided me an opportunity to dream and learn more about the world in general. And that really inspired me to want to go to college because I wanted something better for myself and my family.
I ended up in Salt Lake City because I was one of the last students who was part of the Indian Placement Program. That was a program led by the LDS Church, which provided foster homes for Native students as a way to provide education to assimilate us into mainstream society.
I was one of a handful of Native students in my high school. For me, it was a cultural adjustment and I missed home and my family. When I think about my experience I remember not fitting in, not feeling like I belonged. I always felt like I had to be the perfect version of what everyone wanted me to be so that I didn’t portray the stereotypical ‘Indian.’ But no matter how difficult it was at times, I felt a sense of responsibility to my family and I stayed.
I attended the University of Utah for my undergrad as a first-generation college student. My first year at the U was actually the same year the American Indian Resource Center was established. At that time, I felt like the center was the only place where I could connect with other students who looked like me and who were interested in the same things I was, or at least that I didn’t have to explain anything about my culture and for the first time I felt like I belonged. It’s really inspiring to come full circle and now I am in a position to lead the center. So, in thinking back, I don’t want students to have the same experience I did or feel like they have to walk in two worlds. I want to expand the center to provide other physical spaces on campus for students to feel safe, welcomed and have that same sense of belonging that we have at the AIRC.”
—Samantha Eldridge, director of the American Indian Resource Center