By John Stran
Mahoning is a Native American word for “salt lick” — a place where animals go to consume salt.
The county’s name is remnant of the original heritage that once called this area home, a heritage that is now rather small compared to others on Youngstown State University’s campus.
According to the YSU preliminary enrollment summary for spring 2019, there are 19 Native American students enrolled at YSU this semester, which is an increase from 18 since spring 2018. They are second only to Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders for the smallest student ethnicity on campus.
Katie Marlow, junior exercise science major, is one of these 19 students. She is half Native American, which is the half she identifies as and shares with those she meets.
“I share my nationality with others because I don’t think nationality is something to be ashamed of or to be afraid to talk about,” she said.
Marlow said she was adopted as an infant by a family who was not Native American and her case worker, who managed the adoption, lost her paperwork, leaving her with no information on her birth parents.
Marlow was interested in finding her biological parents and, despite the setback of missing paperwork, she found them.
“Both [parents] were heroin addicts,” she said. “I had found my birth father, but it is believed that my birth mother has passed away.”
Although she was not raised within a Native American household, her curiosity about her heritage grew and she became involved with different Navajo traditions.
“There is a large Navajo population where I am from, which is in the Southwest,” she said. “I stayed on a Navajo reservation and interacted with many families and the local community. I was there to learn about their culture while also working on a service project to build handicapped ramps, rebuild homes and repair a school.”
Marlow has limited opportunity to meet with YSU students who share her ethnicity because there are currently no student organizations specifically for Native Americans, and she said she would join if a group was created.
There are student diversity groups Native American students can join.
Jasmine Smyles is the founder of MALAINA, which stands for Middle-Eastern, African-American, Latino, Asian, International, Native American and Alaskan.
Smyles said the goal of MALAINA is to to unify, empower and educate students of diverse backgrounds in the Honors College.
According to Smyles, there has not been a Native American student present at any of the group meetings, but she is hopeful someone will join and discuss their culture.
Another ethnicity driven organization is the Student Diversity Council.
E’Dazjia Solomon-Green, marketing chair of the diversity council, said she is unsure if any students in the council are Native American because she’s unaware of the identities of most individuals.
Since she is unaware of many of her fellow students’ ethnicities, Green is not sure if Native American students are well represented on campus, but said a student organization for Native Americans would only benefit the campus.
“I think as a community, we can try and do more to build up the representation of all students on campus, which is what the Student Diversity Council is working towards,” she said.
Smyles said she doesn’t feel Native Americans are well represented at YSU or in America.
“I feel there’s just a lack of awareness or education for minority groups,” she said. “Native American-specific activities being one of the least represented population.”
Ani Solomon, assistant director of diversity programs, said students are always encouraged to start their own student organization and any students, regardless of ethnicity, are encouraged to join many of the other groups on campus.
“I believe that any organization can always do more to uplift the voices and experiences of marginalized communities, and I also respect that individuals who hold those identities may choose not to disclose that information for many reasons that are personal to them,” Solomon said.
Marlow feels her heritage is underrepresented on campus, but believes this is due to the small population. Solomon said inclusivity is not measured by the size of a population.
“Because all individuals hold multiple and intersecting identities, it is important to view folks as whole people and not just as any one of their identities. For me, that means that I welcome individuals who hold any identity including Native identities,” Solomon said.