Support for Native students

Center supports Indigenous students, promotes Native heritage

During Native American Heritage Month in November, it’s an opportune time to highlight a vital campus resource: the American Indian Learning Resource Center (AILRC).

The AILRC was established in 1983. Its mission is to increase the recruitment and retention of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students while promoting a more culturally diverse campus environment. It also exists to enrich the cultural, academic, supportive, and social environment of the UMD campus.

AILRC Assistant Director Iris Carufel
AILRC Assistant Director Iris Carufel

The AILRC provides supportive services to reduce barriers and empower Native students toward success. Offering such support on campus is important since American Indians and Alaska Natives are less likely to attend and graduate from college than those from other racial groups. Only 2.17 percent of undergraduate students currently enrolled at UMD identify as AI/AN.

“Universities have long since written Native American people into history whereas the American Indian and Alaska Native students are making history in all the ways they choose to continue their education,” says Iris Carufel, assistant director of the AILRC. “Many of the students we serve not only enrich the campus community but also choose to give back to their home communities. I can only hope to further encourage the students I work directly with to make a difference.”

Photo of the AILRC's main space with comfy chairs and computer workstations

The center is a welcoming and comfortable space where Native students can meet, study and forge a sense of community on campus. The space in Kirby 315 was recently redecorated with bold colors and original American Indian art. It has cozy armchairs as well as computers for students to use.

“The AILRC is committed to sustaining and enhancing services for the next generation of Native students by creating a home away from home environment through a sense of belonging,” says AILRC Director Jody O’Connor.

O’Connor wants Native students to know the university is here for them, and that they’re an integral part of the campus. She is committed to “creating a culture of continuous growth with the sharing of ideas and storytelling” at the AILRC. “It's a place where all feel welcomed, valued and engaged,” she says.

Opportunities for Learning About Indigenous Culture & History

The Mishoomis Collection Library is housed at the AILRC. A remarkable resource for learning about Native American history and heritage, the library features rare books and the private collections of AI/AN elders and scholars. The books are unique because many are written from an Indigenous perspective, focused on the lives and histories of Indigenous people—in their own words. The library began with eight books and now features 10,000 materials, including videos, documents, contemporary scholarly papers and other resources.

The AILRC hosts fall and spring feasts each year and invites the campus community to celebrate and learn about Indigenous culture while sharing a meal and honoring the changing seasons. It also partners with other campus and community groups to organize cultural events.

On November 17, the AILRC is holding an event in collaboration with the Department of American Indian Studies, the Kathryn A. Martin Library, and the Indigenous Student Organization. Samuel B. Torres from the National Boarding School Coalition will be giving a talk about American Indian boarding school history in the Kirby Ballroom (1-3 p.m.).

The American Indian Learning Resource Center is based within the College of Education and Human Service Professions. About the AILRC.

Feature photo at the top is Director Jody O'Connor with new artwork in the background: “Black Floral” by Leah Yellowbird, First Nations Algonquin-Metis, and “Birch Bark Women” by Karen Savage-Blue, Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe.