The Freshman Seminar as Ceremony: The Experiences of Female Native American Persisters in a Retention-Oriented Freshman Seminar Course in the Northwest United States
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Acknowledging the many barriers facing Native American students across their educational trajectories and specifically those linked with decreased retention among Native American college students, a small group of professors at Hope University redesigned their freshman seminar course to enhance persistence among its predominantly Native American and Latinx student population. To evaluate the impact of these efforts among Native American students, this study utilized a qualitative approach to explore the experiences of five female Native American persisters who successfully completed the revised freshman seminar course and were still enrolled two years later. A review of the coursework portfolios of these Native American persisters revealed five themes characterizing their experiences with the revised course: culture, community, family, vocation, and connectedness. Four of these themes—culture, community, family, and vocation—characterized the students’ academic experiences, while the last theme, connectedness, characterized the students’ personal experiences. These findings support existing theories of Native American persistence, particularly HeavyRunner and DeCelles’ family education model, Brayboy and colleagues’ nation building theory, and Lopez’ millennium falcon persistence model, as well as the existing literature on the experiences of Native American women in higher education. However, I offer an alternative interpretation that illuminates the complexity of these female persisters’ experiences while highlighting the problems associated with classifying those experiences as personal or academic, or attempting to distinguish between culture, community, family, and vocation. Specifically, I suggest that these persisters’ experiences with Hope University’s revised freshman seminar course were a form a ceremony—a process that builds relationships and bridges distances between ideas, places, people and ourselves. Both theoretical and practical implications of these findings are explored.
Schillreff, Julie Renee (2019). The Freshman Seminar as Ceremony: The Experiences of Female Native American Persisters in a Retention-Oriented Freshman Seminar Course in the Northwest United States. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from