Native voices: The experiences and perceptions of Native American students enrolled in culturally responsive writing courses at a university in the Southwest

Date of Completion

January 1999


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Higher




The educational journey of Native American students often comes to an abrupt end after the student enters a post secondary institution. Of one hundred Native American students who are in the ninth grade, about sixty of them will graduate from high school, and about twenty will go on to higher education. Of those twenty students, only about three will receive a four year degree (Tierney, 1992). Although attrition rates of Native American students in academe remains high, little research exists about the undergraduate experiences of these students. ^ Within the framework of qualitative analysis, this study examined the nature of the experiences and perceptions of a group of Native American students enrolled in two culturally responsive writing courses in a large university in the southwest. Taught by the same instructor, the two courses are the Rainbow Section, a freshman composition class, and Native Images, an advanced writing program. Students' experiences in and perceptions of these courses were analyzed in an attempt to discover possible links between culturally responsive courses and persistence by determining if these courses provide students with a sense of support from the university. ^ The purpose of this study was to contribute to Tierney's (1992) proposed alternative model for viewing the retention of students from diverse populations. Instead of looking at student retention from a social integrationist perspective (Bean, 1985; Spady, 19170; Tinto, 1975; Tinto, 1987), Tierney (1992) suggests that universities be viewed as multicultural entities where difference is highlighted and celebrated, and where what one has learned from one's extended family is reinforced and incorporated. This new model could result in the formation of different assumptions about reality and what needs to be done to help retain college students from diverse populations. ^ The research topics explored in the literature review in this study include: diversity and persistence in higher education; Native Americans and persistence; and culturally responsive pedagogy. It is the researcher's assumption that these three topics connect, and that culturally responsive pedagogy is meaningful to students from diverse populations and could have a positive impact on the retention of Native American students in higher education. ^ Data were gathered primarily through interviews, questionnaires, observation, and participant observation. Findings that emerged from the data suggest that the culturally responsive courses provide support through the opportunity to connect with others who have similar experiences and stories. Particular categories of perceived support in the culturally responsive classes include: trust, respect, and caring; reciprocity and dialogue; building community; and storytelling as meaningful experience. A sampling of students' written stories illustrate the connection of the courses to their culture. Recommendations for future study and practice are highlighted and are included for the reader's consideration. ^