Freshman to launch first Native American Student Association
Freshman Leah Thompson is applying to create Washington University’s first undergraduate student group for Native American students in an effort to increase their visibility on campus.
Her proposed club, the Native American Student Association (NASA), would provide a space for Native American students to come together and educate non-Native students about Native culture. In founding NASA, Thompson also hopes to recreate the Native culture she experienced in her home state of Oklahoma at Washington University.
“Coming from Oklahoma and being Native in Oklahoma, I [would] be able to walk into a room and say, ‘I’m Native American,’ [and have] 20 or 30 other people go, ‘Yeah, me too,’” Thompson said. “Coming to Wash. U. is a culture shock because so few people know Native people, and so I wanted to raise visibility.”
Thompson added that as a Native American student, she often recognizes the lack of representation of her race on campus.
“It’s really a network to help improve Wash. U.’s whole inclusive community because a lot of times they’ll mention so many races, and Native American happens to be left off that list,” Thompson said. “Granted, we’re a small group on campus, but we’re still a group.”
Freshman Bianca Florence expressed enthusiasm for Thompson’s initiative, believing in the importance of fostering diversity in the Washington University community.
“As a minority woman in STEM, it’s fantastic to see [Thompson] create a culture of inclusion of minority communities on campus, especially Native American students,” Florence said.
NASA would extend beyond creating a gathering place for fellow Native Americans, as Thompson also intends to address misinformation and spread knowledge about her culture.
“A lot of people know overall Native culture. Everyone knows what a teepee is, but not a lot of people know that about 10 tribes used teepees. The other 570 in North America didn’t live in something like that,” Thompson said.
Since beginning the application process, Thompson has learned about the different components required to successfully found her club.
“It’s been just a lot of planning, writing a constitution, making a budget—a lot of things that I didn’t know went into a club,” Thompson said. “It’s been really a learning experience and made me really appreciative of other clubs because they had to go through this, too.”
Thompson has found trouble recruiting Native students because of the low Native population at the University; however, she plans to advertise her group through word of mouth, as is Native American tradition.
“That’s almost how the culture is. It’s a lot of familial community, so word of mouth was how everything got around at home,” Thompson said. “Right now, I’ve done some Facebook advertising, and there will be some posters up by next week.”
In anticipation of her group’s formation, Thompson has already begun creating programming to address her group’s goals of education and cultural celebration.
“Right now, I have written fully about three programs,” Thompson said. “One is talking about rebel philosophies, which is about people like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, John Trudell—these Native leaders who led rebellions and changed the culture and history itself.”
Thompson’s plans include traditional cultural celebrations, as well.
“I’m trying to bring in a fancy dance demonstration because that’s something that, at home, my Native American Student Association always did every year. It was always fun for everyone because it’s colorful, it’s lively and it’s something that everyone can enjoy,” Thompson said.
Thompson reinforced her wish to design an accurate portrayal of Native American culture through NASA’s programming.
“I know personally that I’m going to do a lot of hand-cooking and hand-making of stuff. And that’s going to be the goal—this very homey, hand-making aspect,” Thompson said.
Ultimately, Thompson anticipates that her unique focus on Native American life at Washington University will make her club authentic.
“I don’t want it to seem corporate,” Thompson said. “I don’t want it to seem cookie-cutter. I’m going to try to make it a personal experience for everyone.”
Although Thompson’s group would be the first group of its kind specifically for undergraduates, an American Indian Student Association exists. While primarily for graduate students, undergraduates are welcome to join, too.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the American Indian Student Association already exists on campus.