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Ithaca College Strives for Understanding and Diversity

Ithaca College increases understanding with more diversity in enrollment and a Native American festival.

Ithaca College, in Ithaca, New York currently has its most culturally diverse freshman class in the school's history. In 2010 the freshman class was 15.1 percent ALANA—African, Latino, Asian and Native American—and this year it is 18.2 percent. The percentages break down to be 249 ALANA students in 2010 and 304 this year.

“The current freshman class continues a steady increase in our ALANA student enrollment and is the most diverse class in the college’s history by a significant margin,” Eric Maguire, vice president for enrollment management, told The Ithacan.

Maguire attributes the increase to better recruiting techniques and a greater diversity of college-bound students.

“Students have countless collegiate options, and I believe we have done a good job of reaching out to high schools and community-based organizations to recruit an increasingly diverse pool of applicants,” Maguire told The Ithacan, the school’s student-run publication. “We still have improvements to make, but I am confident that the path outlined in IC 20/20 will allow us to reach new heights of diversity and access.”

IC 20/20 is a 10-year plan that asks what Ithaca College will look like in the year 2020. The plan includes diversity and expanding the school’s graduate degree offerings.

As part of the school’s efforts to increase diversity, it held the second annual First Peoples Festival on Saturday, October 1. This event was created to educate the community and dispel stereotypes about Native Americans.

“Playing Indian is something really sensitive to Native Americans because for so long in this country the U.S. government tried to beat their culture out of them,” Brooke Hansen, associate professor of anthropology and coordinator of the Native American studies minor, told The Ithacan. “So then to have other people lightly appropriate it, they don’t understand the deep history about how hard it was for Native people to hang onto their cultures.”

An important part of the festival is to show the talent and artistry of Native Americans, which Audrey Cooper, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, a cooperative extension of Cornell University, and member of the Lenape and Cherokee nations, said was important. She said something had been missing from festivals in Ithaca, “And that’s participation from Indigenous Peoples.”

This year the festival featured Native American dancers who described the dances and their purpose to increase understanding by non-Natives. And that understanding is necessary.

Alf Jacques, an Onondaga Nation lacrosse stick maker, told The Ithacan that some people don’t realize that they live so close to the Onondaga reservation in Nedrow, New York.

“I don’t know if they even care,” he said. “You can’t reach everybody and not everybody is going to care. Maybe that’s why we have events like this, to get out and touch other people.”

Ithaca College offers all students the option for a Native American Studies minor and will celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November with a Native comedian, cultural activities and an identity panel.