Following Lack Of Student Interest, Jemez Exchange Program Canceled

The Jemez exchange program was one of the many cultural immersion groups at Boston College, managed by the Volunteer and Service Learning Center. This year, the program was discontinued due to lack of student interest and leadership. The Jemez program at BC aimed to level the playing field for the Native American community, said Cai Thomas, a participant on last year’s trip and MCAS ’16.

Jemez, one of the 19 federally-recognized Pueblos in New Mexico, is a small rural community 55 miles outside of Albuquerque, N.M., which maintains the cultural integrity of Native Americans. With a population of 3,400, 39 percent are under the age of 18, and many students are taught by tribal leaders, according to the Jemez website. The Jemez exchange program worked to educate students in the community and show them that college is a possibility, Thomas said.

“It’s about expanding the idea of higher education to this community. There’s a stigma that people should stay on the reservation and not pursue other goals.”

-Cai Thomas, MCAS ’16 and a participant on last year’s trip

Recently, the Volunteer Service and Learning Center has had trouble finding leaders for the program, said Daniel Ponsetto, director of the VSLC.

“It is a good program and a great model of a true exchange,” Ponsetto said. “But the reality is that we had great difficulty finding leaders for the program over the past two years.”

The program involved a weekend experience at BC, followed by a trip to Jemez. High school students from the Pueblo of Jemez stayed at BC for a weekend in October. They were taken to classes, introduced to academic life in college, brought into Boston, and involved in activities on campus. For many students, it was their first time outside of New Mexico.

The goal of this trip was to show what higher education looks like, and outline the necessary steps involved in attending college, Thomas said.

Jemez students get the chance to interact with a community comprised of entirely different backgrounds, and BC students learn the traditions of Native American culture. In January, BC students visit Jemez for a weekend, as host families teach students the customs and heritage of their tribe.

“It’s about expanding the idea of higher education to this community,” Thomas said. “There’s a stigma that people should stay on the reservation and not pursue other goals.”

Students learned the distinct roles that each member of the tribe has and how interconnected the community is. Many students developed a strong connection with the people they met on the trip, and some still remain in contact with their host families, she said.

“It was a really special experience to go during this time of the year,” Thomas said, noting that they visited during a feast day. “They really embrace the BC kids who went.”

Featured Image courtesy BC Jemez Facebook Page

November 2, 2015