Syracuse University Has Plenty to Offer Native Students

Photo by Alex Hamer / Syracuse University adopted Indigenous Peoples Day in 2016. Native students collected signatures and held discussions with the university to make it happen.

Alex Hamer

Athletics, academics and community shine at Syracuse

Ranking in the top 55 universities in the U.S., Syracuse University (SU) offers many opportunities for Native students. Located in Onondaga Nation historic homelands in what is now upstate New York, SU has an enrollment of 350 Native undergraduates, with more than 200 majors and more than 100 minors to choose from. In 2013, 95 percent of graduating seniors were employed, interning, or attending graduate school.

The Indigenous Students at Syracuse (ISAS) is a student run organization that fosters a sense of belonging and awareness for indigenous students on campus. The group also helps to educate the SU community about indigenous issues and concerns.

Nathan Abrams, Allegany Seneca, told ICMN that the Native community at SU was the reason he picked SU over New York University in New York City, which has a smaller Native student body. Abrams’ sentiment was echoed by Kacey Chopito, Zuni-Pueblo, who transferred from a university that did not have the same sense of community that SU has.

Regina Jones, of the Oneida Indian Nation, is the assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs/Native Student Program. Jones has been at SU for 28 years and with the Native student program for 11 years. The students told ICMN that they think of her as an Auntie or Grandmother. Her office door is always open and she creates a space for students to come and talk about any concerns and issues they may have. There is also a lounge for the Native students to gather and have their own open discussions.

The renowned SU lacrosse program is a draw for Native athletes and has produced a few notable players. Onondaga Faith Keeper Oren Lyons was a championship goalie on the undefeated 1957 Championship team. Jeremy Thompson also played at SU and now plays for the National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush.

Syracuse University offers an Iroquois Linguistics certificate program for those interested in the revitalization and perseverance of the Iroquois languages. The program is run by Percy Abrams, Ph.D., Onondaga.

SU also offers social awareness on issues such as adopting Indigenous Peoples Day as opposed to Columbus Day. The Haudenosaunee flag flies on campus wherever the American flag flies. Indigenous graduate and undergraduate students brought these resolutions to the administration, and they went into effect in the fall of 2016.

All of the students that spoke with ICMN said they plan to use what they learn at SU to better the communities they come from. Gabriel Hill, a Seneca student majoring in Child and Family Studies, wants to go back to her community and work in the school on her reservation that focuses on culture first. “I think that’s what my ultimate goal is—to go back and strengthen that program that I first started out in.”

The State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) is another draw for Native students. The Center for Native Peoples and the Environment is a new curriculum at ESF that shares indigenous perspectives on the environment. SUNY ESF, while run separately from SU, shares some facilities, library resources, student clubs and infrastructure. The two universities also share concurrent degrees and certificates available for students with friendly scheduling.

At Syracuse University, Canadian First Nation students are considered domestic rather than international students. This allows for federal financial aid and eliminates much of the paperwork involved for international students. Interested students can apply online.

This story was originally published January 30, 2017.

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