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Pacific Islanders navigate higher education

Pacific Islanders navigate higher education

April 20, 2020 LA GRANDE, Ore. –  After a 32-year-long tradition, the 2020 Island Magic Luau and Show has been canceled due to COVID-19. 

The show celebrates Eastern Oregon University’s Pacific Islander population by showcasing students’ traditional clothing, dance and food. Although the show is taking a pause this year, Pacific Islander culture maintains a significant role on campus. 

“Pacific Islander students add to the EOU learning environment. They provide a unique global perspective in and outside of the classroom,” Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Bennie Moses-Mesubed said. “Having diverse students on campus provides a space to learn from others, whose backgrounds, perspectives and life experiences are different from our own. By being present on campus, they enrich the overall experience at EOU.”

EOU provides a second home to over 100 Pacific Islander students. Most are attracted to campus due to affordability, others attend because the tight-knit community reminds them of home. Kinship, family and community are highly regarded in island culture, so EOU’s rural setting helps students feel instantly connected.

“Knowing your neighbor, building deeper connections with your community and recognizing people in the grocery store are all things these students experience back home and in this community,” Moses said. “We are invested in each other.”

EOU’s relationship with Pacific Islanders began with a federal grant aimed toward promoting higher education in Micronesia. Graduates went back to their islands and became influencers of a new generation. Within their small communities, word-of-mouth from EOU alumni quickly established EOU’s presence on the islands. 

“There is a sense of connection, familiarity and safety associated with EOU,” Moses said.

Student Andrea Camacho heard about the university from this extensive alumni network. More than 36 hours of travel now separates Camacho from her home in Saipan.

“Adjusting to a new culture is a difficult and interesting experience at the same time. All we have known is island life,” said Camacho, a junior studying Health and Human Performance who hopes to promote public health in the islands after graduation. “It has been hard being away from friends, family and the beach, but EOU creates a strong support system.”

EOU’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion works to create a sense of belonging among students from underserved populations. 

“I would feel lost and like an outcast, if I didn’t have my support group of people from my islands,” Camacho said. “Having the Pacific Islander community around is very empowering and lets me know that I am not alone.”

Moses said students rely on one another more than ever while facing unprecedented changes associated with COVID-19.

“Pacific Islanders are natural ocean navigators and way finders. They are utilizing these transferable skills to navigate through remote-access and COVID-19,” Moses said. 

As students from Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Saipan and other Pacific Islands find a home at EOU, their influence improves lives on campus, in the region, and in their home communities. 

“We want our underrepresented and marginalized populations to know there is a place for them in higher education,” Moses said. “We want to empower them to navigate through a system they may not have known about before. And develop a sense of confidence knowing that their leadership is needed and we will support them in achieving their educational goals.”

Learn more about EOU and its offerings for Islander students at eou.edu/islands

Written by PR Intern Briana Rosenkranz.