Identifying ways to support Native American students in science requires instructors to consider familial and cultural connections and needs. Many instructional practices were based on middle class, Eurocentric ideas about learning. Reflecting on these policies with Native American students and their needs in mind is essential to supporting their participation in STEM.


Consider a Native American student who will return to their home community to help their family with maple syrup harvesting during the spring semester. In addition to the harvest being culturally important, it also provides the student’s family with a source of food and income for the year.

It is difficult for the student to give you exact dates for the harvest because the timing of maple sap production is based on the seasonal shift in weather, which changes from year to year. This year, harvest has started early, and the student will be missing a week of classes. The student meets with you to ask about the consequences of their absences, and how to make up work.

Reflection Activity

What are some ways you might respond to the student?

How might you make changes to your course to be more culturally responsive to the needs of Native American students?

Review the requirements and policies within your syllabus and brainstorm ways to make them more inclusive for Native American students (e.g., course participation policy; assignments and deadlines; and lab equipment purchase and use requirements).

Review your attendance policy with this situation in mind and consider incorporating flexibility into your policy for students in this situation. Alternatively, consider adding a sentence in your policy letting students know they can contact you in advance to arrange something.

An example policy might include:
"Our campus is beautifully diverse, with students belonging to many different communities. Should you require an absence from a class due to a cultural or community practice, ceremony or event, please email me two days prior for an approved absence."