Inequities, support, and success: influences on Native American students' sense of belonging in public, postsecondary education

Endemic issues of racism and colonialism create barriers to Native American students’ access to higher education. Using tribal critical race theory (TribalCrit) as a theoretical underpinning, this study explored how Native American students develop and experience a sense of belonging at a public, postsecondary institution. Using a phenomenological approach, I interviewed and analyzed Native American students’ stories regarding their sense of belonging in higher education. Themes emerged that revealed connections between students’ educational experiences and connections to their cultural heritage prior to entering college and development of sense of belonging through campus spaces and relationships with faculty, staff, and fellow Native American students that contributed to bicultural efficacy and enculturation. Findings suggest that culturally affirming practices contribute to development of sense of belonging which serves to nourish Native American students’ self-affirmation and perceptions for their future selves.