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American Indian Student Center breaks ground

SUBMITTED+A+preliminary+sketch+of+the+new+American+Indian+Student+Center+being+constructed+on+Rotunda+Green.
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American Indian Student Center breaks ground

SUBMITTED A preliminary sketch of the new American Indian Student Center being constructed on Rotunda Green.

SUBMITTED A preliminary sketch of the new American Indian Student Center being constructed on Rotunda Green.

SUBMITTED A preliminary sketch of the new American Indian Student Center being constructed on Rotunda Green.

SUBMITTED A preliminary sketch of the new American Indian Student Center being constructed on Rotunda Green.

Wren Murphy

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The Oct. 9 groundbreaking for the new American Indian Student Center signaled the next chapter of growth for Native Americans at South Dakota State University.

Construction will begin in spring 2019 on Rotunda Green. The anticipated open date will be in the fall of 2020.

Gene Thin Elk, a tribal representative, performed the site blessing before the ceremony.

“This new facility has been imagined for many years and will now become a reality,” President Barry Dunn said at the ceremony.

This center is part of the Wokini Initiative, an SDSU program that offers support to American Indian students apart of any of the nine tribal nations of South Dakota. 

The new center will be a place of cultural connection and a gathering fellowship for students. It will also have classrooms and administrative offices, Harming said.

John Karl, a sophomore history education major who attended the groundbreaking said “I hope they get more people involved and raise awareness of how important Native American culture is in South Dakota and all across the United States.” 

The current American Indian Student Center, located in the lower level of the Enrollment Services building, doesn’t have enough space for programming, services and administrative offices, according to April Eastman, director of the American Indian Student Center. 

Some students also find it hard to visit between classes because of location.

“As much as our students like us, we hear on a daily basis that our students don’t want to walk here,” Eastman said.

However, the current center still manages to make an impact on its students.

“The center and the community and support I found there gave me the strength I needed to walk across campus as who I am,” said Aubrey Hendrixson, a senior sociology major and Wokini Leadership Council student representative. 

Jonathan Meendering, a project architect from Facilities and Services, said the construction may disrupt some student activities on Rotunda Green and prevent students from cutting through the area. However, the tree line will remain mostly intact. 

Dunn said funding came from an anonymous $4 million donation

Other Wokini Initiative programs are funded by private donations from the SDSU Foundation as well as a trust fund.

SDSU awarded 15 Wokini scholarships that were worth $5,000 per year and were renewable for five years, according to Dunn. SDSU also hired a Native American recruitment coordinator.

The university hopes that the Wokini Initiative and the new center will increase American Indian student enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

American Indian and African American students have the lowest six-year graduation rate, at 41 percent, compared to the nationwide average of 60 percent, according to a 2017 report from the National Center for Education Statistics. 

“It’s a national statistic, so that’s not unique to SDSU,” Eastman said. “There’s a push and pull between cultural expectations and family obligations. Family obligations tend to be the priority because you have the option to return [to the university].”

Amber Morseau, the Native American recruitment coordinator, said she has seen positive changes because of the Wokini Initiative and the new building. 

She has received more than double the number of contact cards from American Indian students than the university had at the same time last year. This is a trend she hopes to see continue, even after the new center opens.

“Students are really tuning in to our commitment to them by building this new center,” Morseau said.

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