Cultural Rejuvenation

By Elfman, Lois | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Cultural Rejuvenation


Elfman, Lois, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


A program at Miami University in Ohio offering language and cultural revitalization for members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma has led to graduation rates more than double the national average for Native American college students.

For many minority students, especially individuals of Native American heritage, attending a predominantly White university is a daunting prospect. Whether it is an unfamiliar culture or a sense of isolation, students may struggle and retention may be an issue.

The opposite is true at Miami University, where members of the Miami (Myaamia) Tribe of Oklahoma can attend tuition free and engage in a series of specialized courses that introduce them to their tribal language, culture and history. Through the Myaamia Center, which evolved from the Myaamia Project that began in 2001, students are able to cultivate a sense of identity that strengthens their focus and determination.

"The pride that the students feel in learning about, growing and developing their identity has innumerable positive effects, including academic achievement, persistence, and the development of life goals and social well-being," says Dr. Joseph E. Schroer, a clinical faculty member in the Department of Educational Psychology and one of a team of researchers organizing a study of Miami Tribe students' experiences at the university.

"We are able to talk about how the knowledge of cultural heritage, language and sense of building family and community contribute to strengthening these students' lives and the world around them," he adds.

Myaamia Center

The history of the Miami Tribe connects it to areas of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois until the 1800s, when they were driven from their land. To a large extent, they were discouraged from speaking their language. In the latter part of the 20th century, the tribe and Miami University developed a relationship and scholarship funds were made available to qualified tribal students as of 1991. There are presently 32 Miami Tribe students on campus.

After an informal collaboration between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University, both entities invested resources and the Myaamia Project was launched in 2001. It evolved over time into the Myaamia Center, which officially opened in 2013. The two main purposes are to advance the tribe's language and cultural revitalization efforts and to conduct in-depth research to assist in tribal educational initiatives.

While the Miami Tribe students are enrolled, they take a series of six one-credithour Myaamia language and cultural classes together and complete an individual senior project during their fourth year.

Miami University students, faculty and staff often take part in Myaamia Center events. Faculty participate in research being conducted by the center - everything from developing technology that transmits language and cultural information to assessment work.

"We visit classes. We have students come to the center that are doing research papers. There are lots of different kinds of interaction," says Daryl Baldwin, a linguist, who has been the director of the project, now center, since its inception.

"One of the things we do annually is take a chartered bus from Miami University at the end of January to Miami, Oklahoma, for the Miami Tribe's mid-winter stomp dances and gathering," he adds.

Center staff travel to Oklahoma on a regular basis to attend tribal events. The staff supplies teachers, curriculum and other support for tribal programs. There is a biennial Myaamiaki conference at Miami University, where aspects of research are shared with the public.

Research and Results

As noted in the article "Niila Myaamia (I Am Miami): Identity and Retention of Miami Tribe College Students," published in the Journal of College Student Retention, the national four-year graduation rate for Native American students is 22.5 percent, but at Miami University they graduate at the rate of 58 percent. …

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