Navigating College as a Young Native Man

Navigating college as a Native man poses unique challenges and opportunities. For example, in many Indigenous communities, there is a belief that Native men should be strong, independent, and possess warrior-like qualities. College life has many opportunities to connect with others, identify our weaknesses and gifts, grow, and learn how to be more independent, but growth often requires taking healthy risks – like reaching out for support when we need it.   

Whether it’s through tutoring, mentorships, counseling, or taking on leadership roles, college-level resources can provide the necessary support for both our personal and academic growth, enabling us to thrive in school and beyond.  

As a young Native man preparing for college, you may feel unsure about what to expect. Here are some tips designed to help you navigate college: 

Be a Warrior: Get Involved 

Leaving your home for college might seem scary or lonely. You may also feel down if you miss certain ceremonial practices due to your school schedule. Getting involved on campus, especially with other Indigenous people, can help you create a sense of belonging. 

Many college campuses have centers that support Native American and minority students. These centers offer academic and personal resources, chances to participate in cultural events, and a sense of belonging. Getting involved with a center like this connects you with other Indigenous people who may share the same experiences as you. Plus, these services are provided as a part of the tuition you pay. So don’t hesitate to use them!  

There are also many student organizations on campus. These organizations include sports teams, student government, clubs, and more. Your campus might even have Phi Sigma Nu, an American Indian fraternity that aims to grow and foster the resiliency of Native men. Check to see if your college has Phi Sigma Nu. If not, you can start a chapter at your college or create your own Native brotherhood. Getting involved allows you to gain a broader understanding of the world and build essential relationships that will ultimately make you stronger when you return home. 

Find Your Strength: Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Did you know that only 1% of the total U.S. population identifies as Native American? When you’re in college, you may be surrounded by people who don’t look like you. This might make you feel like you don’t belong. During these times, try to draw strength from your culture because ultimately your unique experiences have led you to where you are today. To overcome any sense of imposter syndrome you might experience:  

  • Remind yourself of your successes – You got to where you are because of your hard work and dedication. You applied yourself throughout high school to get you to this point. It’s important to remind yourself of that.  
  • Reshape your thoughts – It is easy to fall into a spiral of negative thoughts that might sound like, “I don’t belong here” or “I’m not smart enough.” Challenge any negative self-talk by speaking to yourself like you would a good friend. This can sound like “I am worthy of being here,” and “I know what I’m talking about.”  
  • Find a mentor – Having a mentor who is also a Native man means that you will have someone to talk to about your feelings and your future career goals. This person could be someone on your college campus, but they also could be someone back home. Even if you cannot meet with them in person, talking on Zoom or on the phone every so often can be a great alternative.  

Be Independent: Find Scholarships and Apply for Financial Aid

College can be financially stressful. Fortunately, financial assistance opportunities such as scholarships can help you pay for school. Scholarships are financial awards that assist students in their educational journey by helping them pay for tuition, books and supplies, food, transportation, and sometimes even housing.  

There are several scholarship opportunities specifically designed for Native American students. Some of these include:  

You can also contact your Tribe’s education department to learn of any scholarship opportunities available.

The Take Home 

As a Native young man, you can make the most of your college experience and achieve your personal and professional goals. Remember to seek help when needed and take advantage of the resources and support networks on campus. You can overcome any obstacles that come your way and succeed in your academic journey. 

Author: Christopher Gomez is a member of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo community and holds two bachelor’s degrees in horticulture and general agriculture from New Mexico State University. Currently, Christopher is pursuing a Ph.D. in agronomy at Texas A&M University.  

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