Have you ever been a unicorn?
Well, I hope not. That’s weird. But sometimes I liken the experience of being a Native student at UNC to that of being a unicorn.
When I walked into every single class at UNC, I looked for other’s like me. Other unicorns. But we are rare. Less than 1% of the student body population so the odds of finding another unicorn in a class of 30-40 people is odd, rare, and often impossible. So, I sit in class and just be the unicorn… the ‘Token Indian’.
“Leslie, do you have an Indian name?”
*rolls eyes* yeah. “Leslie”.
But you know whats funny? Despite our rarity, we commonly grace the front pages of admissions marketing materials. Odd right? It’s always intriguing when Native students visit UNC. Their eyes skirt the arena for brown bodies and accents that make them feel like home because surely they received that brochure with a familiar face, surely this campus is littered with them.
I presume that because unicorns are rare they aren’t seen by others very often so they get those random weird questions.
“What are you?” “Can I touch your hair?” “Are you 100% unicorn?” “What is your mama?” “What is your daddy?” “I thought y’all were all dead?”
You see, I found that ‘institution for higher learning‘ does not imply that higher learning has already taken place but often implies that higher learning is lacking.
So we unicorns must constantly educate. Constantly.
But, you see, we unicorns are resilient, powerful and social. We relish in the power of numbers and have this unique GPS tracking ability to find each other no matter what. It is only in this unique ability that I found my saving grace at UNC. It is this unique ability that keeps the American Indian Center full to capacity at all times and it is this bond that created a safe haven like no other at UNC.
When I wanted to stop answering questions about my identity. When I wanted to talk about home. When I wanted to cry. Laugh. Eat banana pudding. Talk about tribal elections. Discuss the upcoming powwow. Plan a new regalia. Or simply find other unicorns to hug, the American Indian Center became my home.
There is no simple solution to the unicorn syndrome. But I have a few. Increase the Native American student population at UNC. Plan, implement and orchestrate strategic recruiting events and opportunities within Indigenous communities. Require Indigenous cultural and sensitivity professional development training for ALL faculty and staff. As apart of UNC’s graduation requirements, mandate a course on the Indigenous people of this country. Hire more Indigenous faculty. Simply said, become an ally. Stand with us against racist costumes, parties and mascots.
My experience in the classroom, in the Pit, in Lenoir, in Rams is always painted with the rose colored lenses of being a Brown body in a White world but in the powerful words of the UNC Black Student Movement, #WeGon’BeAlright.