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Providing support comes second to understanding the needs of Native American students

Samantha Chisholm Hatfield sits on a traditional tribal blanket in a traditional garment, holding a fan made of feathers.

Samantha Chisolm Hatfield has committed herself and her knowledge to creating welcoming, knowledgeable spaces for Native American students.

OSU Ecampus instructor believes a holistic approach is key to student success

By Tracy Scott
Aug. 13, 2021

Dr. Samantha Chisholm Hatfield’s history with Oregon State University dates back to her undergraduate years when she majored in ethnic studies, Native American studies, and cultural anthropology. While a terminal degree wasn’t in her plans, an elder in her community gently nudged her to further her education.

“It wasn’t on my radar,” Chisholm Hatfield recalls. “I had someone I respected encourage me to apply to the doctorate program as I was completing my bachelor’s degree.”

Never expecting to get an acceptance letter, Chisholm Hatfield laughs when she remembers thinking “What? What do I do now?” But without missing a beat, she went directly into postgraduate studies and earned her doctorate in environmental sciences with a focus on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) from OSU.

Today you’ll find Dr. Chisholm Hatfield, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, teaching online and on campus within OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Hatfield also serves as a research associate studying climate change and TEK within tribal communities at the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.

She prefers to focus less on her impressive résumé, which includes rewards and accolades earned as a research scientist, author, and international speaker. Rather, her primary focus is to facilitate and help bring attention to the holistic needs of the students she serves in her role as an adjunct faculty member and as a key contributor to the support system that OSU Ecampus continues to build for members of tribal communities.

Chisholm Hatfield is quick to point out the connection to the rich heritage of tribal communities as one of the benefits of attending OSU. “There’s a lot of access to Native people and events,” says Chisholm Hatfield.

For example, the Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws, a cultural resource center at OSU, provides a way for on-campus and Ecampus students to connect with one another and Tribal communities from all over. Ina IHaws holds in-person and virtual events throughout the year, providing a space where Indigenous students can express their culture and take advantage of educational and community-building opportunities.

Chisholm Hatfield also acknowledges that there’s more student support available today than when she was an undergrad. Still, she encourages faculty and staff to expand their understanding of Native cultures when designing new programs that support Indigenous students.

“It’s not just a student that comes our way,” she says. “We’re literally caring for that student, and their family and community entrust us with that responsibility.”

That level of support is demonstrated in the flexibility offered to students. For example, it’s not uncommon for Indigenous students to attend tribal ceremonies when they occur and need to miss  engaging in some class-related activities.

“This isn’t a negotiable item,” says Chisholm Hatfield. “Events like funerals are a multi-day process in different Native cultures. Flexibility and understanding by faculty and staff are critical if the goal is to not only recruit but maintain those students who enter university systems.” When appropriate support systems exist, students tend to stay enrolled in college-level programs.

Chisholm Hatfield describes one encounter with a student that still brings tears to her eyes. While she was guest speaking in a natural resources class a few years ago, a young Hawaiian student asked if he could meet with her one-on-one after the guest lecture. During her class lecture, the student briefly left the room. He returned, and then left again. “I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought ‘Am I offending him, or is there something else wrong?'” she says.

But Chisholm Hatfield soon learned that he left because he had to call his mother and tell her “There’s somebody [at OSU] that gets it. And this lady’s Native, but she’s getting it.” The student was so moved that he had to call his mom right then!

Further discussion revealed that the student was having second thoughts about college. He wasn’t sure the university system was right for him. As Chisholm Hatfield spoke to the student for another hour, he shared how alone he felt being away from his people and environment. Without an understanding that many Indigenous people see their environment as part of their identity, it becomes difficult to provide needed support.

“For me, this is a service position where I hope to better facilitate information and help our peoples. So whatever peoples come to me, whatever is meant to come my way, to help these students and help them help their people, that’s my intent,” she says.

Discover how OSU Ecampus is supporting tribal communities nationwide.

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