Creating a home away from home for Indigenous students on UBC’s Vancouver campus

Transformative Learning | Strategy 15: Student Experience
Theme: Inclusion

For first-year Arts student Sabrina Moshenko, moving to UBC’s vast Vancouver campus from a small community of less than 3,000 people in rural Saskatchewan was a little overwhelming.

“For a first-year student, homesickness is a universal feeling,” says Ms. Moshenko. “And finding friends can be intimidating.”

The First Nations House of Learning heard similar comments from other Indigenous students, and their feedback helped inspire a collaboration with the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers to create a new student-led space within the Longhouse. The Indigenous Students’ Collegium (ISC) opened within the Longhouse this past September for all Indigenous students.

Ryanne James, Musqueam and UBC Bridge Through Sport Coordinator of the First Nations House of Learning, helped navigate the partnership with the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, which manages six other Collegia sites on the Vancouver campus, to develop the ISC. The successful Collegia Program, which aims to help first-year commuter students find their community at UBC, is an example of how UBC is creating opportunities for students to feel more engaged and better supported—outside as well as inside the classroom (Strategy 15: Student Experience). The partnership, she says, combined best practices from the program and her team’s understanding of the unique needs of Indigenous students. For example, the ISC is open to all Indigenous students, including undergraduate, graduate and postbaccalaureate.

“We benefit from being a part of a larger system, where a lot of thought and care has gone into designing good experiences and creating safe spaces,” Ms. James says. “We didn’t have to recreate the wheel.”

The Indigenous Students’ Collegium advisory team for the 2019 Winter Session with Acting Coordinator Ryanne James (bottom right) and her dog Motley.

The knowledge sharing has gone both ways. Staff at the First Nations House of Learning, for example, engaged their partners within the Musqueam to speak at a training session for student staff of all of the Collegia sites across campus.

The ISC is a dedicated space for Indigenous students where they can meet new friends and build community among their peers, professors and elders in a warm and welcoming environment. On the Vancouver campus, close to 1,200 Indigenous students come from communities across B.C., Canada and around the world.

For Ms. Moshenko, she says she always finds herself welcomed at the ISC with open arms. “Having a place where I know I have this community waiting for me has been really helpful during this transitional period.”

For the First Nations House of Learning and the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, this is the motivation to continue collaborating and improving the student experience.

About the Indigenous Students’ Collegium

The First Nations Longhouse on the UBC Vancouver campus has always been considered a “home away from home” for Indigenous students. With the opening of the Indigenous Students’ Collegium (ISC) within the Longhouse, this has never been truer. In this dedicated space, Indigenous students can take a break between classes to socialize, study, use a kitchen or relax in a friendly and welcoming environment.

One of the ways UBC is supporting Indigenous students through culturally relevant programs and services, the ISC is staffed by a team of Collegia Advisors, who are Indigenous students themselves. The advisors are willing to share their experiences and support their peers during their time at UBC. Together with Professors-in-Collegia, Dr. Margaret Moss (Nursing) and Sarah Dupont (Xwi7xwa Library), and Musqueam Elder Larry Grant, they provide a solid support network that is integral to student success.

The team can help students navigate their university experience and connect them to resources, such as financial aid, academic support and career mentorship. Many Indigenous student-focused services are available, such as drop-in counselling at the Longhouse. And all programming run out of the ISC is led by students, which ensures it is responsive to their needs.

The ISC also provides opportunities for students to learn and connect to and be part of Indigenous cultures and communities at UBC. Students can take part in activities led by their Collegia Advisors and have open dialogue about current events and Indigenous identity.

The ISC Advisors provide the leadership to create the space and programming that meets the needs of Indigenous students at the Vancouver campus.