USM to offer close-knit housing for American Indian students

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - In 2013, the University of Southern Mississippi will offer a new community housing option for American Indian students and undergraduates interested in the culture.

The university says it will make college life, and campus, a home away from home.

The University is planning to designate areas in the Mississippi Hall and Hattiesburg Hall dormitories specifically for American Indian students, in hopes that living close to one another will enrich the college experience. There will also be a student mentor assigned to the residential areas.

Academically, USM has a Center for American Indian Research and Studies and the new housing option is meant to help not retain Native American students, but also to attract prospective students.

"Research shows that in these types of living-learning communities students are very successful," said Justin Long, Associate Director of Student Assignments. "They automatically have the built-in support system that way, the students are all kind of going through the same process at the same time."

USM student Cody Roth is half Choctaw Indian and grew up just off of the Choctaw Indian Reservation near Philadelphia. He said that integrating into campus life was a difficult transition. "Native American students, when they come here, they come from tight-knit communities where everybody knows everybody," Roth said. "It's relatives, friends and family and when they come here they have nobody."

Roth is now the interim Vice President of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society at USM, which includes ten members. He said he supports the new housing option as a way to help keep the American Indian students on campus close together and, from there, "try to get them exposed to campus," Roth said.

Out of a total undergraduate population of approximately 14,100 next year, Long said the University hopes to have about half a dormitory floor – between 20 and 40 students – register for the community, and hopefully each year it will attract more students.

"To call it a success," Long said, "it's going to be reviewing the community and seeing, is it helping them, do they feel more included on campus, are they more likely to be social and more likely to get involved in more groups…It is showing a higher effect on GPA?"

Long said it is not about the numbers: "Even if we're helping two students or for students or 40, it's still important to us."     

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