Sac State to open Native American student center

Center hopes to recruit more Indigenous students


Keyshawn Davis

A Native student center will be arriving at Sacramento State in fall 2022 on the first floor of Lassen Hall. Described as a necessity by Indigenous students, the center will be reminiscent of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, providing a space for representation and belonging for Native students. (Photo by Keyshawn Davis).

Keyshawn Davis

Correction on Monday, Nov 29 2021 – This story has been updated with the following corrections: 

1) The number of Native students has been updated with the numbers of Indigenous students enrolled in the Native Scholars and Transition program rather than the university’s demographics, which currently shows that there are 73 Native students at Sac State. According to Mejia, there are 188 Indigenous students enrolled in the program. 

2) “Nineteen faculty and staff” has been updated to “19 faculty” in reference to Native faculty members employed by Sacramento State.

‘3) More information has been added regarding specific resources the center offers to provide context on the center’s outreach initiatives.

When Jose Mejia, the senior lead for the Educational Opportunity Program, arrived at Sacramento State in 2018, he said the university was not recruiting and retaining Native American students. When he came into the position, he wanted to write grants and provide more outreach opportunities for Native students. 

This led to the creation of the Native Scholars and Transition Program, which assists in advising and retention for Native students. The Native Scholars and Transition Program plans to launch a Native American student center on the first floor of Lassen Hall in fall 2022.

The center was created for Native students to provide a sense of identity and representation on campus where Native students are the smallest ethnic group. According to Mejia, there are 188 students enrolled in the scholarship program.

The center will also open up outreach and scholarship efforts for Native students. This will include access to scholarships, employment, internship opportunities, peer mentoring and faculty mentoring for Native students interested in a master’s degree. 

“Those types of things are why we really want to be able to showcase and provide our Native student center besides the academic one-on-one retention and meetings with counselors,” Mejia said. 

For Indigenous students like María Elena Pulido-Sepulveda, who is descended from the Caxcan and Otomí, being represented is a necessity. She said she can only think of one experience in her K-12 education where she felt represented. 

“I think that it’s necessary for a four-year institution to have representation for their disproportionately represented students, and that includes Native students,” she said. 

Right now, the center is in the early stages of hiring a retention counselor who plans events for students on campus, according to Mejia. 

“I think once we have a Native center on campus, the goal behind it also would be to hire more Native American faculty [and] staff,” Mejia said. “I think one of the biggest factors that will help increase the number of retention in admitted students. You need to have faculty staff that looks like the students who they’re serving.”

Currently there are 19 Native faculty employed at Sac State according to university demographics. 

I think that it’s necessary for a four-year institution to have representation for their disproportionately represented students, and that includes Native students,

— María Elena Pulido-Sepulveda

Amanda Croteau, a citizen of Cherokee Nation and student assistant for The Native Scholars Program said faculty and staff members have been trying for years to get a Native Student Center on campus. 

It was not until the past four years that the Native student body started speaking up and writing emails and letters to President Robert Nelsen.

“That really prompted the need because…nothing is done if the student body doesn’t speak up about it,” she said. “So although faculty and staff have been fighting for 20 plus years for a center, it wasn’t really until the student body really started speaking up that we actually began the process.”

The floor plan for the Native student center is set to open in fall 2022 in Lassen Hall. The center will include a computer lab, counselor office, break room and more. (Photo courtesy of Jose Mejia, graphic by Ayaana Williams). (Ayaana Williams)

According to Mejia, funding for the Native student center primarily comes from student affairs. There was money put aside in the student affairs budget for equipment, remodeling of the center or the space, and then hiring a coordinator for the position. 

The Native student center will be reminiscent of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center where students can have open spaces for cultural events, Croteau said. 

Pulido-Sepulveda is also a student assistant of the Native Scholars Program and said the center will have a computer lab and lending textbook library. But, since there’s no “handbook on putting together centers,” the creation of the Native student center is being inspired by other cultural resource centers, she said.

“We’re taking ideas that we’ve seen from other centers and seeing how we can have it work for our students as well,” Pulido-Sepulveda said. 

Both Croteau and Pulido-Sepulveda are excited for the Native center to open. Croteau said she thinks the creation of the center will increase the number of Native students attending Sac State. 

“I think that it’s exciting that we’ll finally have a space for ourselves to work and practice our practices and wear our regalia,” Croteau said. “I can really be myself and see other students really be themselves too.”