Yale’s ethnic counselor team will include a full-fledged Native American counselor in lieu of a Native American peer advisor beginning next year, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey announced Wednesday.
Currently, the Native American peer advisor attends ethnic counselor training sessions and meetings and has the same responsibilities as an ethnic counselor. The position, which has existed since 1998, is currently funded by the Native American Cultural Center; beginning next year it will be funded directly by the Yale College Dean’s Office as an official ethnic counselor position.
“It was very hard to justify why the students who worked with other ethnic groups were counselors but students who worked with Native American freshmen were called peer advisors,” Salovey said. “The distinction didn’t make sense to me; I felt it was time to eliminate that distinction.”
Salovey said that the decision was recommended by various student and faculty committees as well as by ethnic counselors themselves.
Raina Thiele ’05, the current Native American peer advisor, said the change will legitimize the position.
“I think this will give whoever the student is next year the authority that the other [ethnic counselor] positions have,” she said.
Ethnic counselor Ameer El-Mallawany ’05 said all the ethnic counselors agree that the Native American peer advisor already effectively functions as a member of their team, and that the title change was necessary for “institutional recognition.”
“This is always the first issue that is brought up as far as reforming the ethnic counselor program goes,” El-Mallawany said.
The peer advisor position began as a compromise between various student groups and administrators who were not sure whether the Native American community at Yale was large enough to warrant a counselor, said Amanda De Zutter ’01 SOM ’06, who was the Native American peer advisor during the position’s second and third years of existence and now serves as co-chair of Native American Yale Alumni.
De Zutter pointed out, however, that the needs of Native American students were unique because of the size of the Native American community at Yale.
“The population is so small that you can feel very isolated,” De Zutter said. “Unless you know who the other native students are and you make an effort to see them regularly — you could go your whole time here without seeing another native student. A lot of native students got lost here and fell off the map for that exact reason.”
Native American students officially make up one percent of Yale’s population, but Shani Harmon ’06, moderator of the Association of Native Americans At Yale, said that there is usually a discrepancy between the official data and the actual number of Native American students at Yale, since prospective students sometimes identify themselves as Native American because they assume it will boost their chance of being accepted. Thiele said she has 24 Native American freshman as counselees.
Thiele said Yale has not focused as much attention on the Native American community as on other ethnic communities because of its small size, but it is unlikely the community will grow at Yale without support services such as a recruiter for Native American students.
Currently, Assistant Dean Rosalinda Garcia serves as the director of both the Latino and Native American cultural centers, and the Native American Cultural Center shares a building with the Asian American Cultural Center.
Harmon said the recognition of the Native American ethnic counselor as a stepping stone toward increased representation for the Native American community. She said she hopes Native Americans will eventually have a separate dean and cultural house building.
“We really need a dean to address the issues unique to our community,” Harmon said.
Harmon cited the transition from reservation life to college life as one of these issues, pointing out that many Native American students are living in an urban area or with a population in which Native Americans are a minority for the first time.
As a result of this minority status, De Zutter said, many Native Americans have to contend with “cultural insensitivity” surrounding what she called “native issues.”
“A lot of ethnic groups and cultures are contending with racial stereotypes, but we’re such a small population that even the most educated people can fall into a pit of ignorance when it comes to issues surrounding native culture,” De Zutter said.
Native American student Chantelle Blue Arm ’08 pointed to an incident in which a fellow student called her “Pocahantas” as evidence of both this tendency and the need for an advisor who understands issues specific to Native Americans.
The ethnic counselor program has existed since 1972, and Yale’s 12 ethnic counselors currently provide support to students who self-identify as African American, Latino or Asian American.
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