Jarrid Whitney, a member of the Six Nations, Grand River Reserve in Canada, was the first student to ever earn an academic concentration in Cornell University’s American Indian Studies Program. Raised in Mt. Upton, a farming town in upstate New York, Jarrid always wanted to work in higher education to help other Native, first-gen, low-income students like himself. He worked his first job as a Financial Aid Counselor at Cornell “helping low-income students navigate the complexities of financial aid.”
Jarrid wanted the position as an Assistant Director of Admissions in charge of Native American recruitment – including American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students – at Dartmouth because he knew the College had programs in place to accommodate them; he did not want to participate in bringing Native students to a place where they were not supported.
Jarrid was most impressed with Dartmouth, in part, because of the diversity of Native tribes represented there. He believes that because the College had a strong reputation in Indian Country, Native parents felt comfortable sending their children away to Dartmouth. Due to a history of forced removal of Indian children to be placed in boarding schools, generally, Native communities are distrustful of education facilities.
To remedy this distrust, Jarrid’s recruiting trips were unique. He went out of his way to build strong bridges between Dartmouth and Indian Country. He would do as much as he could in the communities he visited – from dancing in their powwows to visiting their homes and their families. On his work trips, he’d leave his evenings open; he’d visit schools in the mornings and get out to cultural events, community dinners and celebrations in the afternoons.
“When I was recruiting, I spent a lot of time with prospective students,” Jarrid said. “I’d go into their homes or go into their tribal offices, just to get a better connection with them beyond just going to a high school visit. I knew if I was going to build a relationship with a Native community, I couldn't just meet the high school students in their high schools. That’s not where they hung out. It was so lovely. My whole Indian world was upstate New York – my tribe, my reservation. And I knew a lot about that, and I had friends from different parts of Indian country. But I never immersed myself in the broader scheme of Native country. I remember doing a Native recruitment trip in Alaska. And just spending a week in Alaska State, I'd never traveled there before. And then to spend really significant cultural time there was so powerful. Getting food from strangers, feeling good about being able to do that in a very thoughtful way. I never experienced that before.”
During Jarrid’s time at Dartmouth, the admissions office received a record-high number of applications from prospective Native students, as well as a record-high number of Native students enrolling for their freshman year. Jarrid is proud of that.
In the late nineties, though, the College was concerned with admitting “culturally connected” students. As the Native recruitment officer, Jarrid faced skepticism over which “types” of Natives he admitted.
“I felt a lot of pressure from the Native American program that if I didn't enroll enough reservation kids or really strong culturally connected students then I wasn't doing my job,” Jarrid said. “I felt a lot of pressure from the [Native] alumni population that we needed to do more with ‘true rez Indians.’ And I remember distinct conversations when I would present the number of students enrolling, somebody would ask how many of those students are from a reservation. It was a weird conversation to have because the assumption was that if somebody was not from a reservation then they were just self-identifying as a Native and taking a spot from somebody who was more deserving. So, I had a lot of conversations about how we do not work off of a quota system and, sure, there are some students who are not as culturally connected as others but that does not mean they just took a spot from somebody else who was as culturally connected. I was trying to remind people, [admissions] doesn’t work that way.”
On the other hand, there was the misconception that Affirmative Action meant lowering standards for minorities. Jarrid would deal with people saying things like, How dare you bring students to Dartmouth who are not capable of doing the work.
“That was what a lot of underrepresented students had to deal with,” Jarrid said. “If you're a minority, then you must have got in because of that fact, not because you have the academic profile. And just because somebody is not culturally connected, doesn't mean they got in because they checked the box. So I had explained fairly often that if somebody self identifies as a Native American we don't remove that. That's how they self identify. But they didn't get in because of that. And I think that was something hard for people to understand. We found a lot of applicants who had zero connectivity to their background. And maybe they’re just checking that box to get leverage in the admission process. But I can tell you right now, we've never let somebody in just based on that fact. Either way, they are outstanding, and otherwise, they could still get admitted.”
On top of these misconceptions, the Dartmouth Review, for instance, worried him. They terrorized the Native population at Dartmouth, with their constant lobbying for the Indian head mascot. Writers for the review would wait by the bus stop for the Dartmouth Coach and catch students visiting for the Native Fly-in program as they arrived from the airport; they were handing out T-shirts printed with the Indian symbol.
“For the Fly-in students, they were like, ‘Cool, a free Dartmouth T-shirt,’” Jarrid said. “They didn’t know the negativity of the imagery. They did not understand the conflict at all. They were unsuspecting patrons of the T-shirts.”
After Dartmouth, Jarrid took a job as Assistant Dean in Stanford Admissions, where he also oversaw Native recruitment. He later went to earn his masters degree at the Harvard School of Education.
“Much of my research was on access, equity and diversity in higher ed. In fact, one of my projects was the study of the first “Indians” to attend both Harvard and Dartmouth,” Jarrid said. “I even got to use Dartmouth’s archives to look at original hand-written letters from Dartmouth’s first Native students to their families. It was fascinating work learning their stories about being Native in a mostly white community, stories that are similar to today despite all the changes over time.”
Today, he’s the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Enrollment and Career Services at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. And though he doesn’t explicitly work with Native students and recruitment anymore, he helps create policies that affect the lives of all students at Caltech, especially those from underrepresented communities.
Overall, Jarrid’s experience at Dartmouth was “outstanding.” He loved being a part of the Native community, and he loved helping to curate it. He explained that the admissions process is more than finding academic stars – it’s about finding students who will connect with the community, who will participate in the community, and who would benefit most from the resources and opportunities Dartmouth offers – because Dartmouth can offer so much more than an education.