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Action group advocates for American Indian, Pacific Islander on-campus equity

Participants gather at the 37th Annual UCLA Pow Wow, hosted by the American Indian Student Association. (Courtesy of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center)

By Alexandra Kaiser

June 4, 2022 6:35 p.m.

This post was updated June 5 at 4:11 p.m.

UCLA students, faculty and staff are seeking to improve support for American Indian and Pacific Islander communities on campus through a joint initiative with the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The 20-member action group’s initiative hopes to increase the size of these communities on campus and improve retention by working with the UCLA administration to provide more resources to American Indian and Pacific Islander students, faculty and staff, according to the group’s website.

Over the summer, student organizations representing American Indian and Pacific Islander students wrote a letter asking the UCLA administration to provide more resources for their communities and address their lack of representation on campus.

[Related: Pacific Islander, American Indian students call on UCLA for more representation]

In response to this letter and other actions, such as the sit-in at Murphy Hall, the EDI office created the American Indian and Pacific Islander x EDI Action Group, said Joe Berra, a special projects director for the Office of EDI and co-chair of the action group. The group is composed of three action teams, separated by students, faculty and staff, he added.

The action teams will develop initiatives to promote inclusivity and equity for American Indian and Pacific Islander communities on campus, said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an emailed statement.

Looking forward, the communities also hope to implement an American Indian and Pacific Islander student resource center to better support students on campus and increase retention as well as create new faculty positions for people in these communities, Berra said. The admissions office has an American Indian recruiter, he added, and students are also advocating for hiring a recruiter who would work with Pacific Islander students to increase their enrollment at UCLA.

One goal that has already been accomplished is the establishment of an American Indian and Pacific Islander Living Learning Community on the Hill, said Rey Soto, another co-chair of the group and professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

“It’s a way of UCLA becoming a model for inclusion of these communities that have historically been excluded and even uniquely invisibilized within the higher ed system,” Berra said.

[Related: UCLA plans to open American Indian and Pacific Islander Living Learning Community]

The action group’s goal comes down to increasing the number of Native students on campus and the number of Native students who graduate, said Avory Wyatt, a graduate student in American Indian studies.

American Indian and Pacific Islander students came together in advocacy efforts because both occupy less than 1% of the campus population, said Joshua Lyda, the third co-chair of the group and coordinator of the Retention of American Indians Now! project. As students started to work together, so did faculty and staff, he added.

The action teams are waiting to hear the university’s exact response to their requests to increase American Indian and Pacific Islander support and representation, but the response so far has been positive, Soto said.

Although the group’s initiative is in progress, there is still more to be done to meet the standard resources that other universities provide to American Indian and Pacific Islander communities, Wyatt said.

“I think this is really just the first step, especially with UCLA being the top public university,” he said. “I think they should be able to provide more, and what they promised us is what a lot of universities already have.”

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Alexandra Kaiser
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