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The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) is part of the University of Hawai‘i System which is composed of nine campuses total.  UH Mānoa is the only Research I institution in the System and the only public Research I institution in the State. The bulk of Hawaiians participating in higher education does so in the University of Hawai‘i System and, as expected, the majority of those students are in the community colleges.  In the State of Hawai‘i, Hawaiians composed about 23% of the State’s total population.  At UH Mānoa, Hawaiians make up approximately 12% of the undergraduate population (about 2,000) and about 10% of the graduate and professional school population (about 633).  And although the UH Mānoa student body is predominantly of color, Caucasian faculty constitute 65.5% of the tenure-track faculty.   Hawaiians compose only 4% of the tenure-track faculty.  Both Hawaiian faculty and students are concentrated in the following disciplines: Hawaiian Language, Hawaiian Studies, Education, and, just recently, Political Science.  Although there is a significant number of Hawaiians on the Mānoa campus, our presence continues to pale in comparison to other populations (like Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans) and in relation to the larger Mānoa population – Hawaiians also persist at lower rates than other populations as well.  As such, programs which help Hawaiian students make connections across campus plays a very important role in their successful higher education matriculation.

As illustrated above, Native Hawaiian students at UH-Mānoa are a rare find — rarer still are those Native Hawaiians who actually graduate.  If we extend the idea of an educational pipeline to this discussion, even rarer are the profession­als (including faculty members) at the end of the pipeline. Part of the answer to addressing the concerns of building and supporting the educational pipeline especially for under-rep­resented populations, such as Native Hawai­ians, is to provide student services programs which address the successes, challenges, and cultural norms of these populations.

Recognizing the continually growing need for institutional support to facilitate higher educational success among Native Hawaiian students, Kūali‘i Council[1] advocated for the creation of Native Hawaiian Student Services (NHSS) to provide another permanent sup­port program for ‘ōiwi (native) students.

With the birth of Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge in June 2007, NHSS found a nurturing and supportive home to grow and develop its organizational identity. As part of the School, NHSS has two distinct but related broad kuleana (responsibility): to serve Hawai‘inuiākea majors and to serve all Native Hawaiian students. NHSS encourages the broad participation of Native Hawaiians at UH Mānoa.  Currently, we are composed of Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian Language academic advising, community outreach, enrichment (academic, professional, and cultural), and research.

A central thread running through the work of NHSS is the centrality of community and family.  Like the Family Education Model posed by HeavyRunner and DeCelles (2002), it is critically important to not only provide students with family-like structures on campus, it is also equally important to include families and communities into the higher education process as well.  For NHSS, our higher educational outreach is community-based.  As reflected in the work of our Outreach Coordinator, our outreach is, literally, based in the community (part of the work is conducted from a space in the community).  We work in partnership with community-based organizations and conduct our outreach activities in conjunction with community activities in which families will attend.  As such, it is our attempt to decentralize higher education and make it more accessible to our broader Hawaiian community while being able to have access to this broader Hawaiian community as well.  It is essential for us to build strong relationships with the families composing our communities, in general, as the core for our students are families.  This work also helps us to better understand our communities as well.  The better we understand our communities and families the more effective our outreach will be since it is our hope to contribute to community-building through higher education.

NHSS also facilitates community-engagement opportunities with our students as well.  In our bridge programming, community field trips are essential to the students’ curriculum as it provided the practical application of classroom knowledge.  They were able to visit a fishpond, kuleana land (a special designation of land only available to Hawaiians), work with a Hawaiian non-profit organization, and visit Kaho‘olawe.  All these activities were designed to address multiple levels of learning based around their Hawaiian identity – our students were able to learn more about contemporary Hawaiian culture, engage and network with community members, contribute to the community (through direct service activities), and contextualize their classroom learning.  Additionally, we also offer our broader group of students the opportunity to fulfill their community service scholarship hours in much of the same way – NHSS provides spaces for our students to engage in the broader Hawaiian community in activities that are meaningful to their cultural identity and higher educational experience, in general.  It is the hope of NHSS that by providing our students with these kinds of formal community engagement opportunities (and, hopefully, more formalized educational opportunities through developing our service learning arm and internship program) will help to reify their sense of responsibility to developing community through, again, higher education.

On campus, we have created pu‘uhonua (sanctuary) for our students which we’ve modeled very closely to a living room in a family home.  At the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, we have opened up a resource center which provides our students with a comfortable, safe space in which they are able to relax, study, access resources (e. g. laptops, printing, peer tutoring, NHSS staff, scholarship information), and network with their peers.  Physically, they are also surrounded by visual significations of “Hawaiianness” through the décor, nature of the educational materials, and the staff.   This informal gathering space is also important because it provides the opportunity for our staff to engage with our students on a little bit of an informal level – eating lunch together, talking story, etc. – to, again, build our relationships with our students so that they feel comfortable in coming to us for assistance.  Most recently, we have also secured a space on the main campus in the main Student Services building to create another pu‘uhonua for our broader Hawaiian student base.  Again, creating student spaces and cultural centers are not new ideas – but the degree to which they are important to our Hawaiian students in establishing a physical cannot be overstated because it is not simply a space.  It is a real physical manifestation of a “Hawaiian sense of place” on a campus which is, by and large, not.

Integral to NHSS is also its commitment to research.  We are fortunate enough to have a research and evaluation arm which provides NHSS and the larger campus community with broad insight into Native Hawaiians in higher education, a focused picture of Native Hawaiian students at UH Mānoa, and feedback on programmatic efficacy.  In short, it is set-up to inform NHSS and provide valid, reliable data, analysis and reporting to the larger campus community so that we may all better identify and understand the challenges and successes of our Native Hawaiian students in higher education.

For Hawaiians, higher education is essential to nation-building.  But in order to overcome the challenges Hawaiians face in higher education, we also must accurately understand our students in a way which is culturally-appropriate and culturally-based.  Moreover, we must help to create a higher educational experience which provides the academic, social, and cultural support necessary to succeed in a way that also reifies cultural identity and bridges the “cultural disconnect” so many of our Indigenous students encounter.  As the literature illustrates and the anecdotal experiences of NHSS exemplifies, employing these strategies into student affairs programs is critical to supporting successful higher education matriculation for Hawaiian students.  Our structure, programs, and services are designed around our understandings of Hawaiian students and based on the belief that student success and the work we do to support student success, ultimately, is for the greater good no ka lāhui (for the nation).


[1] Kualii Council is Native Hawaiian advocacy and advisory group at UH Mānoa composed of faculty, staff, and students who are Native Hawaiian and/or are concerned with the status of Native Hawaiians in higher education.

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