Native American and Indigenous Students Drive Change

Native American and Indigenous students work together to form a new minor and create a community at NYU

Paige Cook is used to running into friends. The Psychology major grew up in Akwesasne, a Mohawk territory between New York and Canada, where she knew everyone in her high school and waved at everyone she passed. But when she decided to come to NYU, she says, “I thought that was something I would lose.”

Seeking a similar sense of community at NYU, Paige joined the Native American and Indigenous Student Group (NAISG) her first semester. There, she discovered a space where she could be herself. She also built relationships with her professors, especially within her Native American and Indigenous Studies and Creative Writing minors. “I found people here that care about me,” says Paige. “Now this big university feels really small.”

There is no single Native American or Indigenous experience. But a community of students at NYU connects over common interests, goals, and challenges. One of the resources they turn to is the Native Studies Forum. The Forum is a hub where students, faculty, staff, and the larger community can engage with historical, political, and cultural matters related to Native Americans and Indigenous people. Not only does it promote relevant research and coursework while recruiting diverse faculty, it also hosts events. For instance, one recent talk delved into the ways colonialism contributes to climate change.

Blue Cervantes and Paige Cook, respectively, laughing at a Native American and Indigenous Student Group meeting.
First-year member Blu Cervantes, left, with Native American and Indigenous Student Group president Paige Cook, right.

Students Shape Their Studies

Course offerings at NYU are dynamic, often evolving based on student feedback. The NAISG was instrumental in pushing for the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor, which began enrollment in spring 2018. The five-course minor includes options across departments—history, anthropology, creative writing, and art history, to name a few—reflecting the broad interdisciplinary scope of the field. And since New York City is home to the largest population of Native American and Indigenous people in the United States, NYU seems like a fitting place for the new minor. What’s more, seeing students lead the charge to establish the minor reinforced Paige’s decision to come to NYU. “A lot of students, including myself, come here because it seems like a place where you can change things,” she explains.

Blu Cervantes and Zoe Scretchings, who is treasurer of the Native American and Indigenous Student Group, together at a group meeting.
Blu, left, with Zoe Scretchings, right, who is a senior and the NAISG treasurer.

An Evolving Vision

Paige now serves as NAISG’s president, helping to welcome and connect other students. In addition to hosting weekly meetups and events like discussion panels, the club holds a Native graduation ceremony. Paige hopes to see continued improvements in the resources for Native American and Indigenous students at NYU. She aims to secure a regular meeting space for the group along with more faculty support. However, she’s optimistic about the University’s ability to further improve its offerings. “There are people here that will push for change, and there are people here that will change, and that’s what I really wanted to see,” says Paige. “I’m here for the people, and that’s what I love most.”