Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this qualitative study was to better understand the lived experiences of Native American students when studying on a predominantly white campus at a small university in the Upper Midwest. Using a phenomenological approach, the researcher interviewed each of the eight participants for one hour, although there were two interviews that took longer. Two participants agreed to meet for a second interview and, again, the time taken was approximately one hour. The resulting audio-recorded interviews were then transcribed, coded, and analyzed.

Three themes emerged from the analysis of the data. Theme One: Participants depended on the support of home, the university, and especially the Native American Cultural Center, to help ease the culture shock of being a minority student in an alien environment. The paramount issue involved creating a new social support system, resulting in them seeking each other out or else committing themselves to strenuous commuting programs between university and home. It helped if professors took the time to understand their academic and cultural needs. Theme Two: With continued contact with the campus society, the participants gained more confidence in the white culture, and were finding their relationship with their home and culture was evolving. They expressed a desire for a multicultural society without prejudice, but remained adamant about maintaining their own culture. They tell each other not to quit, that it was probably worse back on the reservation. Theme Three: Assimilation was expressed as a negative option. Culture was seen as important and the goals expressed were educational success and returning to the reservations to help their people. Many plan on pursuing further education by attending graduate school. They had chosen to live in another environment but the commitment to their culture became stronger over time.

The final assertion that emerged from this study was: Effective support of the cultural identity of Native American students studying on a predominantly white campus, by their family and the administration of the university, contributes to the retention and success of these students.