Student centre helps ease cultural transition into campus life
- NC Raine | October 03, 2017
For both new and returning students, integrating into a university environment can be an intimidating endeavour. The Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre aims to provide support to students with a special emphasis on meeting the needs of Aboriginal students.
The 1,884-square meter building, designed by Metis and Blackfoot architect Douglas Cardinal, is centrally located at the University of Saskatchewan campus and is unmissable with its exterior design featuring a “fin wall” that resembles a blanket sheltering the building.
The Centre works to enhance First Nations, Metis, and Inuit student success by bringing together teaching, traditions, and cultures of the people of Saskatchewan. In addition to the variety of programs and supports offered, the centre functions as a hub for on-campus Indigenous engagement and events. “For a lot of students, it's about making a cultural transition to the University – which is a community onto itself,” said Graeme Joseph, Team Leader of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Success at the Aboriginal Students Centre.
“Some of the students are separated from family and friends for the first time, and deal with loneliness. So we do a lot of community building – different activities and supports often in a group format that allows students to create supportive relationships,” said Joseph.
Supports and programs offered are vast, including workshops and tutoring, social events, Elder services, pipe ceremonies and sweats, among others.
A welcome barbecue will be held for first year students on September 13th, as well as check-ins for first years throughout the year, ensuring the new students feel connected.
“Campus is a big place,” says Joseph. “We encourage Aboriginal students to come (to the Centre) because we are a service dedicated specially for them. We have an understand of the unique challenge that the Aboriginal students face.”
Dallas Fiddler is a fourth-year political science student at the University of Saskatchewan who is one of the many directly benefitting from the Centre.
“When coming to a big campus in a big city, in can be quite scary. It's almost culture shock for some,” said Fiddler. “Having the Aboriginal Student Centre provides that close community and make it easier transition into larger city life.”
Research shows that up to 70% of first year students will experience some sort of homesickness in their early days at university. The Centre hopes to provide that sense of community that many students miss.
“Campus can be a pretty isolating place, especially as an Indigenous student,” says Dallas Pelly, education student. “To be able to come to a place, feel welcome, and access some of these services here is really important. Mainstays like soup and bannock every Wednesday creates a really cool place to come and gather.”
The centrality of the building also serves as an important symbol of reconciliation, progress and a more welcoming campus, says Pelly.
“The building is a focal point in our university. Just knowing the University is pushing reconciliation this year - I've met a lot of non-Indigenous people who are willing to talk about a lot of issues we're facing. This is a great central place to make that happen,” says Pelly.
So, for those uneasy about their transition to university, or simply looking for support, fellow students advise simply to get involved.
“My advice to new students is to reach out and ask for help. There's people that come to this centre that have walked the path before you,” says Rollin Baldhead, education student.
“They could be a future role model or source of support. So reach out. You'll find help here.”