To be a Native American on campus can mean alienation, said
Beverly Fenton, the director of Native American Student
“In order to really understand how it is to be a student on this
campus as an American Indian, one who is not from that community
has to take themselves all alone with no friends and go live up on
Pine Ridge or another reservation, where you don’t know the
language, you don’t know the culture, don’t know the mores. Go
there all by yourself and see how comfortable you feel,” she
The number of Native American students at CSU is particularly
“A lot of the time, I’m the only one in my class,” said Teresa
Cox, a senior environmental health major.
Native Americans make up one of the smallest populations on
campus. Fort Collins has a Native American population of 0.6
percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The CSU student body is
only 1.2 percent Native American, according to the Fall 2003
numbers from the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis.
Native Americans on campus do not necessarily come from the same
tribe. There are more than 550 tribes in the United States, each
with its own culture and background, Fenton said.
Cox said this can make it hard to relate. And while she feels
out of place, she does not feel that it is anyone’s particular
“I need to be more willing to open up, and others need to be
more open to accept me,” she said.
Cox experienced discrimination on campus only once, at an
intramural basketball game.
“Our team was almost completely Native American. It was a really
physical game to begin with and it could have escalated to
something a lot worse. At the end of the game, one of the players
on the other team threw out a racial slur. It was just ignorant,”
Fenton does not believe these events often are done with
“Sometimes things are said and done with the intent to hurt,”
she said. “Most of the time though, people do things that they
think just out of misinformation or ignorance for native
Others have had similar experiences.
“I could tell you stories about others who have, for example,
been in stores and were watched very closely or even followed
because they had darker skin,” said Gene Bereza, a graduate student
and training coordinator at CSU.
Irene Vernon, the director at the Center for Applied Studies in
American Ethnicity, is also Native American.
“I think many Native Americans at CSU and in Fort Collins
experience a sense of alienation,” Vernon said. “All in all, many
feel very lonely.”
She said there is not a strong sense of community, neither on
campus nor in Fort Collins.
Both Vernon and Cox stressed that they cannot speak for the
community as a whole.
This time of year is especially unusual for Native Americans,
with Columbus Day – called by some Indigenous Day – having passed
and Thanksgiving only a month away. Native American Student
Services usually has a speaker for Columbus Day but did not this
Cox feels that students should take the time to become more
educated about ethnicity when they are at CSU, and that education
is what will reduce discrimination and misunderstanding.
“I would ask that people be respectful of Native American
culture,” Fenton said. “Do not appropriate it or imitate it.”
But Fenton encourages visitors to NASS.
“We’re an office for the students,” she said. “Everyone is
Idea for info box:
Interested in Native American culture? Register for one of these
spring 2004 classes:
ETCC200 Ethnicity in America
ETCC204 Ethnicity in Colorado
ETCC205 Ethnicity and the Media
ET 340 Native-American Perspectives on Conquest
ET 444 Federal Indian Law and Policy