Mississippi State University’s Native American Student Association held their first interest meeting Jan. 14 with their first general body meeting following on Jan. 28. The general body meeting will start at 5:15 p.m. in McCool 110 while further meetings will be held at the same time every other week.
The Native American Student Association, or NASA, is a new student organization operating within the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center. NASA aims to raise awareness for Native American issues on campus, foster a community for Native American students and draw other Native Americans to the university.
Club co-founder and vice president Kristopher Andrews, a junior civil engineering major, said he began the club out of a desire for more representation.
“I’m involved in a lot of other organizations in HCDC, such as the LSA and BSA,” Andrews said. “When I learned there was no organization for Native Americans, I said, ‘You know what? I’ll start it.’ Everyone kept pushing me to do it.”
Andrews, whose mother is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, developed the club in the summer of 2019 with the help of the current president of the club, Genesis Ferris.
“I handled the constitution and club framework while she handled outreach to other Native American students on campus,” Andrews said.
After Andrews and Ferris wrote and revised the club’s constitution, the club was finally approved at the end of the fall semester. Andrews credits social media with helping spread the word about the club.
“I made a Tweet once we got the club finalized, and it got over 350 likes,” Andrews said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but especially for a new organization, it meant a lot to see that many people interact with our message.”
Club President Genesis Ferris, a sophomore criminology major, said she hopes the club can create a stronger Native American community on campus.
“I’m hoping to connect other Native American students on campus who might not know each other,” Ferris said. “We want the club to be a place where people can find that kind of friend group.”
Ferris became involved at Andrews’s wish, but she is eager to advocate for Native American students and educate others about Native American culture.
“There’s a difference between tribes and cultures, and it’s important people understand that,” Ferris said. “I’m from a Southwest tribe, but someone from a Northwest tribe might have a completely different culture.”
Ferris hopes the club’s presence will draw more Native American students to MSU.
“We want to build a community with the students who are already here, and we hope those students will go and tell others that this space exists,” Ferris said.
Andrews noted there are not student organizations for Native Americans in universities around the state. With their organization being the first, he hopes it will influence others to begin their own.
“We’re the only Native American Student Association I could find in Mississippi,” Andrews added. “I was surprised, but we really hope this can become a widespread thing.”
Club Advisor Grey Garris noted the disparity between the number of Native American students on campus and their proximity to the university.
“Native American students make up less than 1% of the student population even though the Choctaw tribe is only two hours away,” Garris said. “Hopefully seeing a Native American Student Association will help students here feel more at home but also draw more Native American students to Mississippi State.”
Garris assisted the club with administrative tasks but said he looks forward to also helping the group grow.
“They’re trying to bring in tribal elders to speak to students, and they want to get more culinary and cultural educational events going,” Garris said. “I’m excited to see what comes next.”
Future NASA events for this semester include a basket weaving workshop Feb. 14 and stickball on the Drill Field Mar. 19.
The creation of NASA ties to a broader push for more Native American representation on campus. A Choctaw Tribal Nation flag is being placed in Perry Cafeteria Jan. 28, and a tribal representative will be there to speak at 11 a.m.
NASA is looking for a secretary, public relations chair and general body representative. The general body representative will be elected at the end of the semester, but those interested in the other positions can contact NASA through their Twitter and Instagram, @nasa_msstate, or through their email, email@example.com.