By Lyric Snodgrass
For struggling students, the Institute of American Indian Arts Pathways Council might be the best place to voice concerns. The IAIA Pathways Council provides an open forum for students, faculty and administration to come together to discuss issues on campus and to work through those issues.
“We focus on bringing up problems and talking about solutions, not just complaining,” says Jessie Ryker-Crawford, Ph.D., who is White Earth Chippewa, and spearheads the council with Jennifer Love, M.FA. Both are faculty members in the departments of museum studies and creative writing respectively.
The issues brought up at the meetings are divided into three sections: project, partnership and by (date). As people propose changes they want to see, it is written on a flip chart with a mention of who might be able to help with a solution, and the date by which they expect to see results. These results can range from a fully implemented solution to an issue or a possible budget to bring to the next meeting.
The monthly meetings are held on the fourth Tuesday of the month, and anyone can propose an issue such as encouraging more students to attend graduate school or to add more benches around campus, both of which were brought up at the October 2018 meeting.
“We have to be mindful, we want a place to be safe and say what you feel,” Love says. Everyone at the meetings is allowed to speak and bring up improvements they would like to see on campus.
Hidden Issues Emerge
One recent project tackled was student hunger. The issue of student hunger, to Ryker-Crawford and Love, didn’t seem like such a big problem until it was brought up in one of the meetings. “For a student to succeed, they cannot be hungry,” Ryker-Crawford says. “We all come together as a community to ask: ‘What can we do to see results today?'” The outcome of the issue of student hunger lead to the development of the food pantry for students on campus. Starting mid-November, the food pantry will be moved to the new Student Union building, but the Student Success Center will continue to accept donations too. The pantry is in need of food, toiletries, and warmer clothes for the winter season. Also, some students will be new parents soon, and baby clothes, diapers, baby toiletries and furniture are needed.
Another issue the council has taken on is the matter of attendance. Currently, IAIA allows for students to be dropped from a course after a second unexcused absence at the instructor’s discretion. Love says that through the council, there is an official form “for students, advisors and professors to stay on the same page as far as absences, but ultimately it’s on the student.” Using this form, advisors are kept up on the student’s performance in a course. Sometimes despite the absences on the student’s record, they are allowed to continue with the course and still earn credit for it.
In addition, the council takes on more long-term projects such as connecting students to financial aid. At IAIA, one of the main reasons for students not returning is not having the funds to continue their education according to the Priority 1-Financial Resources on the Pathways: Completing the Circle webpage.
Love explains that there are plans in place to improve the communication between the English composition professors and financial aid to further the process of getting students to apply for scholarships. Some English composition classes have added an assignment for students to write a practice essay, which could then be used to apply for IAIA scholarships. Love says some students find it disheartening to put the work into crafting a good essay and then not getting the scholarship. She adds, many students don’t know that they can request feedback on their essays from financial aid.
Not only tending to the issues which arise academically, the council also addresses what is happening personally with the students on campus.
“We care,” Ryker-Crawford says, “Sometimes you feel like you’re on an island and no one knows you’re struggling with food or with childcare.”
Both Ryker-Crawford and Love know that the challenges and obstacles which can prevent a student from graduating are many, but they are committed to supporting IAIA students on their path to graduation.
“We want students to succeed and we want to remove as many barriers as we can to help them succeed and becomes masters in their field,” Love adds.
For students, faculty and staff who wish to attend and learn more, the next meeting will be on November 27 from 3:30 to 4:30 pm, and the final meeting of the semester will be on December 11 from 3:30 to 4:30pm.