Connecting the Dots

Bitsoi LeManuel | Navajo | Financial Aid Officer | 1999-2000

Bitsoi wanted to go to College on the East Coast. But as a first generation college student, he didn’t have much help understanding how the admissions processes worked, or how financial aid worked, or how he could apply for fee waivers for admissions, SAT, and ACT. Being unaware of these opportunities, he thought he couldn’t afford the East Coast. So Bitsoi opted to attend college in-state. When he graduated from the University of New Mexico, he sought a job in student affairs and student advising, so he could help students like himself “connect the dots” – realize their opportunities. He took a job at San Juan community college in Farmington, New Mexico, but the whole time he was there he was wishing he could go East. He met some people who had graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Education. When he asked them about it, they encouraged him to apply. He said a prayer, mailed an application, and was admitted a year in advance. That gave him time to get all of his financial aid together, and apply to every scholarship he could find.

Near the end of his time at Harvard, Bitsoi applied for a job in Stanford admissions, and they flew him out for an interview. He was in the midst of making plans to move to Palo Alto when the Stanford Admissions called him to say they were impressed with his application, but they’ve decided to go with someone else with more experience – Jarrid Whitney. Bitsoi was disappointed, but honored just to have come in close second. And a couple days later, Bitsoi got a call from the Associate Dean from Dartmouth. She said, You know that Stanford stole Jarrid from us, right? I just got off the phone with the Dean yesterday, and I asked him since he took Jarrid, I want the names of the other finalists from their search, and your name came up. How’d you like to come up for an interview?

Bitsoi had visited Dartmouth before, and didn’t think he loved it – too cold, too rural. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, he thought. So he went to Hanover and stayed in the Hanover Inn, and went through a couple days of great interviews, great conversations. But at the end of the interview process, he was told that the Alumni Association felt strongly about having a Dartmouth alumna in that position. Again, Bitsoi was disappointed, but he understood.

Soon after that, the Director of Financial Aid at Dartmouth asked him to come in for an interview. So Bitsoi went and interviewed for a position in the Dartmouth Financial Aid office, and he got the job. At that point, he had to make a decision between a job at Dartmouth, or a job at Harvard.

“I had always been interested in access and equities, especially for Indigenous students,” Bitsoi said. “So I know that one of the first Native American programs was established at Dartmouth. They have that rich history. Harvard, on the other hand, didn't necessarily have that type of track record. So I thought, well, I'm going to go to Dartmouth to see what their secret formula is.”

As a financial aid officer at Dartmouth, Bitsoi, in addition to working with students to whom he was assigned alphabetically, he also worked with the neediest students as an ally. So not only did Native students have an advocate in admissions, but they also had one in financial aid. Bitsoi helped Dartmouth’s financial aid officers understand the bureaucracy of federal aid.

“The history of all the Ivies, they were all male and all white. That’s the way higher education was set up. All the colonial colleges were built by white men for white men. All of the institutions are still patterned after those original colleges - the white heteronormative perspective,” Bitsoi said. “No matter which college you went to, you’ve been trained to think from a white heteronormative perspective. That’s how they were designed. So, you come with a mindset that the other does not belong. There was a lot of education that had to go on [at Dartmouth].”

During his time at Dartmouth, Native students were dealing with three main issues. First, there were two major misconceptions on campus pertaining to Native people: that Native students didn’t have to pay for Dartmouth, and that they were admitted to Dartmouth automatically as a result of their ethnicity. Then there was the Greek scene at Dartmouth, with the themed parties. The “Hawaiian Luau,” for example, was replete with disrespectful language, offensive posters, and appropriated costumes. And, as always, there was also the Dartmouth Review, which had a sign set up on Main Street saying Bring back the Indian.

“But here’s the thing,” Bitsoi said. “Dartmouth never had a mascot. When intercollegiate sports were first established, when Dartmouth got a football team, the male students would dress up with fake headdresses and paint their faces, just the way they did with the Boston tea party, to try to scare and intimidate the opposing team. That’s how it came into existence, but the Indian was never the mascot. Other institutions saw that and followed suit. But it was never officially the mascot. I would say that Dartmouth was probably one of the first institutions that allowed for the creation of the Indian Mascot. But the institution itself never officially recognized it.”

Whenever he had the opportunity, he told people about the history of Education in this country. He tells people that no matter where they’ve gone to school, they’ve been conditioned, to a certain degree, to think from a white heteronormative perspective. Bitsoi left Dartmouth nearly two years later and took a job at Harvard, and always, in his work, he is an ally for Native Americans in higher education.