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Building Bridges With Indigenous Communities

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Heather Hein

Senior Editor

Profile  •

5 questions with Megan White Face, DU's associate director of admissions for Native and Indigenous student recruitment. 

Megan White Face sits in a leather chair

“Empowering Indigenous students on their educational journey in the hope of making that journey more fulfilling” has been the calling of Megan White Face, DU’s associate director of admission - Native and Indigenous student recruitment, throughout her career.

White Face, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, came to DU last November, having previously served as director of enrollment at Oglala Lakota College, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota.

We talked with White Face about her journey to DU and her work in admissions, which focuses on the recruitment and retention of Native and Indigenous students—and, ultimately, on their engagement and success.

What brought you to this role and DU?

I was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I went to South Dakota State University (SDSU)—my original plan was to teach art, so I got my undergraduate degree in art there and was planning to get my MFA. But between programs, I worked in the student engagement office at SDSU, and it just fit. I really liked working with the students, not in a singular capacity, but more on their overall success with academics and engaging on campus and finding their people. So, I switched tracks and got my master's in higher education through Fort Hays State University. I’m an “on the ground” kind of person—I like to interact with students, engage with communities and families. I was looking for that kind of work and found this position on a job board. I had heard about DU—some colleagues of mine had family members who had gotten their master’s degrees here. So, I applied, and here I am.

As you settle in, what are you most excited about?

Megan White Face selfie

My role is recruiting and outreach in tribal communities in Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, South Dakota and North Dakota. We’re working on building bridges with the Cheyenne and Arapaho and other tribes and tribal communities affected by the Sand Creek Massacre, with the goal of increasing the Native and Indigenous student population at DU. I’m excited about getting to know the Native and Indigenous students and faculty at DU—I was able to meet recently with the executive board of the Native Student Alliance and Dr. Stevie Lee (associate director, DEI Native American Initiatives), and they were awesome. They are a very engaged, very vibrant and welcoming group. I’m also excited to start traveling and getting out into communities. Starting in April, I’ll be going to schools on reservations or near tribal communities, places that we have most likely not visited in the past. It’s been fun hearing from counselors at high schools who are like, “Oh my gosh, yes. We have students here that would love to meet with you.” I look forward to getting familiar with the schools and the kids and becoming a more consistent presence. 

What makes DU a good choice for Native and Indigenous students?

There is quite a large and diverse Native and Indigenous population in Denver. A lot of the students that I've been able to engage with are familiar with that. Many of the students who choose to come to DU already know somebody who’s a student, or they have a family member here. It’s important to have that sense of community kind of built in. You don’t get that in a lot of other locations. But there are also a lot of amazing scholarship opportunities for Native students at DU, and we hope this will help with the transition into the University.  

What would you like the larger DU community to know people about Native and Indigenous students?

I think it’s good for people to understand not to view us through a singular lens because, you know, we’re not all the same. We have different life experiences—some of us come from urban settings, some from more rural or tribal communities. We come from different practices and belief systems and, you know, we have different perspectives and goals. Not every student wants to graduate and go back to the community they grew up with. They might choose to serve Native communities in a different capacity, or on a larger scale, or they may want to do something completely different with their lives. So, even though we identify as Native and Indigenous, we’re just as diverse as everyone else.

Your undergraduate degree is in art. Do you still do art?

Yes, I like to paint on wood paneling instead of canvas panels, mostly with acrylic. I don’t really work in realism or anything like that. My art is about walking in two worlds—my mom is Irish Catholic, and my dad is Native, so I know life on the reservation and off the reservation and how to navigate both. I like to kind of mess with that idea in my art, by combining organic and geometric shapes together. The geometric is very crisp and clean and precise, and the organic is a little bit more muddied and muted. I haven't quite found a series of things I want to do; I just kind of play around with it, because that's just, I guess, who I am.

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