South Dakota State University (SDSU) is on a mission to transform its campus into a welcoming environment for American Indian students. It is the first university in the country to dedicate a portion of its land grant funds to elevate American Indian student success, a decision that explicitly acknowledges that SDSU and the state have benefited from lands taken from the Lakota and Dakota people by the U.S. government.
SDSU's new Wokini ("new beginning" in Lakota) Initiative seeks to eliminate the significant barriers that American Indian students face in achieving a college degree. The program combines transformational change in campus culture with holistic support for Native students, including dedicated scholarships, extensive outreach, academic mentoring and emergency funds. To ensure that the community is prepared to welcome American Indian students, SDSU has developed a state-of-the-art training for staff and faculty to build understanding of Native cultures. In spring 2020, the Initiative will move into a new American Indian student center, located symbolically in the heart of the campus.
An advisory board of tribal leaders and educators throughout South Dakota helps guide the Wokini Initiative and provides a tribal perspective to move the Initiative forward. The University's decision to dedicate land grant funds to American Indian students has inspired numerous other universities throughout the country to consider a similar commitment.