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December 7, 2018

Native American Student Experiences at USC

Although USC has been steadily developing more resources for recruiting and supporting Native American students on campus, there is actually a long history of Native students at USC. I recently sat down with Karras Wilson (Quechan/Cocopah), Director of Native American Students Outreach and Recruitment, and Vanessa Gomez Brake, Associate Dean of Religious Life and we spoke about that legacy and history on our campus. As an example, Karras mentioned one of our most notable Native alumni, Joseph Medicine Crow, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009. Joseph Medicine Crow was an acclaimed Native American historian and last surviving war chief of Montana’s Crow Tribe. Mr. Medicine Crow received his Master’s Degree in Anthropology and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from USC in 2003.

When talking about current undergraduate students, we focused on the USC Native American Student Union (NASU), a space for Native American Trojans and Company to connect and empower one another both academically and spiritually. NASU also provides a sacred and intellectual community for members, raises awareness of Native American issues on campus, and promotes recruitment of prospective USC students from tribal communities and around the country.

One of the important characteristics Karras highlighted was that the majority of USC students identifying as Native American actually come from reservation communities. For students who are looking to find a home-away-from-home, student groups like NASU and the Society for Advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in Sciences (SACNAS) can provide comfort. I was able to catch up with the presidents of both NASU and SACNAS to discuss their experiences at USC:

Ariel Nessl (Miwok) is a Ph.D student in USC’s Department of Chemistry. She is President of SACNAS, which focuses on advancing diversity in STEM. SACNAS is open to everyone. The initiatives that Ariel spearheads involve students from middle school through community college. Having been once a community college student herself, Ariel works with local community college students interested in conducting summer research at USC. She also coordinates SERGE, a summer camp program for Native American middle school students to learn about science and work on experiments.

Participants of the SERGE Summer program

Currently, SACNAS is focusing on a mentorship program between graduate and undergraduate students with the hopes of creating an environment that feels like family. For more information on any of the initiatives listed above please email sacnas@usc.edu.

I also spoke to Mato Standing Soldier (Lakota), President of NASU. Mato is currently in his junior year at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts. He is originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He describes his community as “small compared to Los Angeles with the largest minority population being Native American”. When I asked Mato about his decision to attend USC he said, “I wanted to attend USC since I was little. I am a big football fan and knew USC had a great team. I also knew USC could provide me with a quality education. When I applied to USC, I initially wanted to attend the Iovine and Young Academy but I have found a home in the School of Cinematic Arts”. Mato, whose stage name is Mato Wahuyi, considers himself a multi-hyphenated artist, working as a vocalist, rapper, and producer. This summer he released his first album focusing on his biracial identity. If you would like to listen to his music, you can find him on Spotify or Apple Music.

His music has allowed him to perform in spaces to highlight Native American culture including Los Angeles’ Inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day, the National Congress of American Indians, and Apple Headquarters for Native American Heritage Month.

Mato Standing Soldier, Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles, Inaugural Celebration

Mato’s advice for future Trojans is “go towards the unknown. It can be scary to think about traveling away from your community to pursue your degree but education is the ultimate disruptor. You will find a community to love and support you wherever you go. Instead of thinking long-term at the four years ahead of you, just take it day by day.”

One of the common themes that Karras, Ariel, and Mato addressed was that the Native American student experiences at USC are diverse. You can find many Native students across all academic disciplines and in many of our professional schools as graduate students. While many Native Trojans engage with NASU, some may come only for a few meetings at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. There is no pressure for Native students to solely be involved in NASU but rather engage with everything that our campus has to offer. Our Native students are able to explore their academic interests such as science and research with SACNAS while having a community to support them. Future Native Trojans can feel confident that when selecting USC, Karras and his team will be here to welcome them.

For additional information on resources, please visit: https://nasu.usc.edu/about/resources/

BY: Angelica Gutierrez
Assistant Director of Admission

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