Receiving a college acceptance letter in the mail is a watershed moment for many young adults, but stepping into that empty dorm room is another experience altogether.
More and more universities in Canada are building comprehensive Indigenous resource systems on campus and providing holistic opportunities for education.
While those supports are integral to ensure healthy and equal opportunities for Indigenous students, there’s another resource that most students away from home already have: social media.
It may get a bad rap these days, but now there is research showing that it provides more opportunities to sustain relationships with family and friends. Those students who move away from home especially benefit when logging on.
Far from Home
A study out of the University of Kansas examining international students found that adjusting to college life was made easier when they went online. The study found that interacting online provided a unique connection to people back home who shared the same culture.
While no research has yet been done on the the social media usage of Indigenous students, they share similar experiences with those international students who may be leaving a distinct cultural support system behind.
Adjusting to major life changes is challenging at any age, but it’s a two-for-one shock for students who both move away from home and are immersed in a completely new environment.
Adapting to college life, from sudden absolute freedom to the terrifying task of self management, is one of the most challenging times that young adults will face. There is pressure to not only succeed academically but to fit in socially.
A study published in 2016 looked at all of these components and found that particularly for college students, social media helped them adjust and cope to that exotic landscape.
It’s not just friends that students are reconnecting with: relationships with family also dramatically alter when kids move away. Researchers at Kent State University looked at how they interacted online with their nuclear family.
They found that when parents and children interact on social networks like Facebook, they are also more likely to talk in person: these online connections directly translated to more face-to-face time.
Longhouses, Gardens, and Podcasts
While social media plays a large role in how students cope with a new life away from home, the resources that universities provide also make a difference.
The University of British Columbia offers a First Nation and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) program that incorporates the Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden. The garden gives chances for students to learn about traditional plants and medicines, while also hosting a program that invites urban youth to come and learn.
The FNIS program spoke to several students about their experiences on campus. Melissa West Morrison, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, Namgis First Nation, and Chinese, was an intern at the Xʷc̓ic̓əsəm Garden. This internship not only introduced her to other students, but built up relationships with elders, an opportunity that many Indigenous students may miss.
“During my time at the Garden, I was the lead intern working with the Medicine Collective. I was really fortunate to be able to learn from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge-Keepers sharing traditional teachings and supporting workshops to reconnect and restore our relationships to lands and peoples that live on Turtle Island,” she told the FNIS program.
UBC also has its student-ran radio station, CiTR. It hosts Unceded Airwaves, a radio program hosted by the Indigenous Collective.
Nikita Day, who was getting her minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies, said although she helped with Unceded Airwaves, she wished she had taken more advantage of the school-run programs.
“It wasn’t really until my third year that I started going to the longhouse and collaborating with the other Indigenous students, and that has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ll take away from my time here,” she told the program.
“I know how difficult it can be attending an institution like UBC for the first time especially if, like me, you come from a much smaller place. My advice for other Indigenous students would be to try getting involved.”