NMSU opens American Indian student center

Las Cruces, New Mexico (AP) October 2010

New Mexico State University has opened its new American Indian Student Center in hopes of helping students from tribal communities adjust to life on campus.

Tribal leaders and elders, state officials, university regents and students were among those who gathered at the Las Cruces campus last week to celebrate the opening of the more than $3.5 million, nearly 7,500-square-foot building. While the center is for all students, American Indian Program coordinator Michael Ray said a major goal of the center is to add to the 620 American Indian and Alaskan Native students enrolled at NMSU. Indians represent nearly 3.5 percent of the student body.

Sophomore Aileen Cruz of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo remembers when her family dropped her off at New Mexico State University, she was so homesick she thought about dropping out. She was shocked to find out 15 other peers from the Santa Fe Indian School were also navigating the campus with her.

Those discoveries will be more likely thanks to the American Indian Student Center, which has been in the works since 2001.

“It’s going to serve as our sanctuary,” said Cruz, 19, who is Miss Native NMSU.

She said the curved building would be a place to escape the hassles of school or study and make traditional foods with friends in the American Indian student community.

“This is our place to call home ... and we need to take care of it. We need to cherish it,” Cruz said.

NMSU also needs to draw American Indian faculty to the campus, said professor and Cherokee member Jeanette Haynes Writer.

“As native people, we’re tied to our lands,” she said. “Think of this new building, this American Indian Student Center, as our landmark, our place of stories ... somewhere we can come to and form our community.”

Haynes told the crowd at last week’s grand opening that the center will be a place to learn, strategize, debate, discuss, cultivate leadership and laugh.

“We need to enter it with good hearts – and positive spirits,” she said.