Las Vegas, N.M. — One of the biggest challenges Native American students face in college is keeping their cultural identity strong, said Highlands’ new Native American recruiter.
“The Native American Student Services Office at Highlands honored and supported my native identity and helped me with a sense of belonging on campus,” said recruiter Robert Romero, a Laguna Pueblo member and Highlands University graduate. “Being at college can take you away from your cultural identity, from your language to your spiritual nature.”
Romero said he plans on building on the Native American Student Services Office’s success to help more Native American students transition to college life. He said he plans to reach out to Native American students and education departments at New Mexico reservations to recruit students and wants to initiate a program where tribal elders visit campus for native language classes to help students build and maintain their fluency.
Romero is of the Big Sun and Little Water Clans of Laguna Pueblo west of Albuquerque. He earned his bachelor’s in anthropology at Highlands and is now an anthropology graduate student and BFA candidate.
“In my position, I’ll work closely with the Native American Club,” Romero said. “I’m also here to provide advising, from academics to financial aid. My door is always open, and I make referrals to other campus resources when there’s a question I can’t answer,” Romero said.
Romero said the loneliness of living away from the reservation for the first time can also take its toll on Native American students.
“I was shy and missed home when I first came to Highlands. Native American Student Services staff helped me come out of my shell and encouraged me to join the Native American Club, which helped me connect with other native students from a wide variety of tribal affiliations and sacred traditions. I always encourage native students to join this active club, and others are welcome too,” Romero said.
Romero served in different leadership roles with the club, including president, vice president, and treasurer. He organized events like pueblo throws, Native American Week, the Miss Native American Pageant, and more. These events will all continue.
“Robert’s biggest strength is supporting positive Native American identity,” said Fidel Trujillo, dean of students for Highlands. “He’s a proven, valued leader in the Native American student community on campus. His rapport with students makes him a respected adviser and role model.”
Trujillo said Highlands creates a seamless pathway from high school to college success for Native American students.
“As a university, a core part of our mission is to support Native American students academically and socially when they’re on campus and to honor their tribal identity and culture,” Trujillo said.
The Native American Student Services Office is on the third floor of the university’s Student Union Building, Room 302. Romero may also be reached at 505-426-2049 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Students from more than 15 Native American tribes in New Mexico are enrolled at Highlands this fall semester. The university is part of an ongoing memorandum of understanding with the 19 Native American Pueblos in New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation and both the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache Tribes.
The agreement is aimed at increased enrollment and degree completion for Native American students, with scholarships playing an important role.