Leaving one’s home in search of higher education can be a very different experience for aboriginal students. As many aboriginal students have expressed, feelings of isolation and homesickness can interfere with academic success.
Many educational institutions in the Atlantic region—such as St. Thomas University, Cape Breton University, and Université de Moncton—have been hiring aboriginal recruitment officers, directors of aboriginal education initiatives, and aboriginal student advisors to provide adequate support to aboriginal students. Unfortunately, Mount Allison has fallen short in its support for these students; only recently have students taken the situation into their own hands in search for better resources for aboriginal students.
The Mount Allison Aboriginal Support Group was formed in 2012 after the disappearance of Mi’kmaq student Chris Metallic by students Madelaine Metallic and Rebecca Watts. It is still gaining its footing on campus and always welcomes new members. Aside from aiming to raise awareness about aboriginal issues, the group has many other goals for improving the support aboriginal students receive while at Mt. A.
One of the group’s overarching goals is to implement an aboriginal support centre on campus: a space that would act as a place of support where aboriginal students could go to find additional resources, host activities, and socialize with other students of similar backgrounds.
But the space would also be more than that.
“Having a sense of aboriginal community is very important, even just for a sense of solidarity and support, so you have others around you who can relate to you coming from a small aboriginal community … but, if there is a space, it doesn’t have to be just for aboriginal students, it can be open for others,” group co-founder Rebecca Watts said.
An aboriginal support centre would not only provide aboriginal students with a centre to connect with fellow students—much like the function of Mt. A’s existing international lounge—but the space would also encourage others to come and learn about aboriginal issues and cultures.
Aside from providing a designated space, the Mount Allison Aboriginal Support Group has argued that the centre would also help improve aboriginal student enrolment and retention rates. Watts explained that many other aboriginal students she knows chose their post-secondary institution based on whether or not they had supportive services for aboriginals. An aboriginal support centre would show that the university welcomes students of aboriginal backgrounds.
Small changes can make a big difference.
After meeting with Ron Byrne, Mt. A’s vice-president in charge of student life, it was decided that the 2015-16 university application will include a self-identification check box for aboriginal ancestry. This will help the university identify its aboriginal student population, helping them to better support these students.
Another initiative the group has suggested is the creation of an aboriginal studies minor. This would be a fundamental step if Mt. A is to show support and educational diversity. Recently, the Mt. A’s vice-president academic Karen Grant called a meeting with several faculty members from different departments to discuss its formation. A multidisciplinary program based on existing courses that will hopefully be implemented in the near future.
On top of increasing the aboriginal student recruitment and support, Watts also made it clear that “there absolutely needs to be recognition of aboriginal students on campus.” By recognizing the aboriginal student population—something Mt. A has thus far failed to do—and providing them with necessary extra support, the university experience would be more enjoyable and comfortable for aboriginal students, yielding higher student success.
The Aboriginal Support Group always welcomes new members. Email [email protected] or check out their Facebook page “Mount Allison Aboriginal Support Group.”