A pilot project headed by the University of Washington is attempting to increase the population of Native American students in higher education by exposing them to a possible career alternative, the legal profession.
“Pathways to Law School” is a two part program that has brought 40 high school students to campus. The first session held during the first week in October allowed the students the opportunity to meet UW Native American law students as well as Native American attorneys. Additionally, the participants received information about admission requirements for post-secondary institutions, learned about legal issues faced by many tribes and participated in a mock trial.
The second session of the Pathways program is scheduled for October 31-November 1. The 40 participants will experience the daily routine of a law school student by participating in classes. They also will stay in dormitories and listen to motivational speakers. The event will culminate in a shared celebration of the UW Native American Student Day, which is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Sandra Madrid, the assistant dean of the UW School of Law, who wrote the proposal, noted that the UW was one of three schools picked as a site for the pilot project due to a large concentration of Native American students in Washington as well as a large number of minority students enrolled in the law school.
“Thirty-five percent students of color…and 22 Native American students are enrolled at the UW law school. Nationally it is a good number,” Madrid said. Madrid elaborated that “the UW is one of the top three (colleges) in its commitment to Native American students” and that the UW Native American student body represents various “tribes across the country.”
This past spring and summer, the UW School of Law and the Office of Minority of Affairs worked extensively to secure money for the program by submitting a proposal to the Law School Admission Council, a national non-profit organization that oversees law school committees, and also to its subcommittee, the Minority Affairs Commission, which handles the recruitment for under-represented students of color.
Because of the Office of Minority Affairs’ experience in recruiting Native American high-school students, the UW School of Law asked OMA’s Educational Talent Search to co-sponsor the project.
Julian Argel, director of ETS, said that for the past two years ETS targeted Native American students who are potential generation college students from low-income areas. James Gutierrez, an ETS counselor, said he noticed that the high-school students “didn’t think it was possible for someone from their background to (go to college)” until they saw and listened to the counselors recount their firsthand experiences about college.
ETS helped to selected the 40 participants from areas, such as Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom and Yakima Counties–areas that are considered low-income areas with large Native American student population.
According to the 1992 American Council on Education report, American Indians were the most educationally underserved population, with highest percentage of students performing below basic math and reading skills levels and a 35.5 percent dropout rate from high school. Moreover, the American Indian college graduation rate is four percent compared to a 20 percent college graduation rate for the U.S. population as a whole.
One of the biggest goals of the Pathways project, according to Madrid, “is to plant the seeds for Indian students to look to continue their education especially in the legal field.” To implement that goal, many of the UW’s Native American law students will serve as mentors, tutors and facilitators of special activities to the participants.
Darwin Long Fox, UW law student involved in the Pathways program and Native American Law Student Association president, said that he personally got into law because of many reasons, one of which is the great need for Native American lawyers. “Statistics show that there are only 1,200 Native American attorneys. Given the need and issues native people face, 1,200 is not a lot,” he said.
Long Fox cited another startling statistic which underlines the need for the Pathways program and others like it. “Depending on the location of the reservation, out of the 90 percent of Native Americans who go on to post-secondary education, 60-80 percent drop out.”
“Our leaders fought very hard in the past…and there is an inner sense of obligation to fight and protect our rights and culture to pass onto the future generation,” Long Fox said.
For additional information, contact Julian Argel of the Educational Talent Search, (206) 616-1948 or Sandra Madrid of the UW Law School, (206) 543-0199.
Note: Grace Shim is a Diversity News Intern in the Office of News and Information, under a program supported by the Ford Foundation.