One of several non-Indian faculty members at Haskell Indian Junior College, Chuck Haines enjoys teaching at the school because of the opportunity to learn something new every day about Native American cultures and traditions.
"It's kind of like a little U.N. here," he said.
Haines, who teaches biology, microbiology and botany, came on board at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school last fall. He is finishing his doctorate in microbiology at Kansas University, where he was a graduate teaching assistant.
Teaching at Haskell, Haines said, is stimulating and challenging. That's what several non-Indian faculty members said in recent interviews about their experiences at Haskell.
ABOUT HALF of Haskell's faculty is non-Indian, said Hannes Combest, executive education assistant for the school. The faculty at Haskell numbers about 65. By law, the school is required to give Native Americans first consideration for jobs. But if no Native Americans apply, jobs are opened to non-Indians, explained Bob Martin, the school's president.
Although Haines had lived in Lawrence, he said he didn't know much about Haskell before he started teaching there last year. Haines said the richness of the culture at the school is a definite job perk. Haskell's student body represents 139 tribes, each of which is a different culture within itself.
"In one aspect it's challenging because of the cultural diversity," Haines said. "Secondly, as you'll find at any school across the nation, we're having problems in education."
LIKE OTHER students he's taught, those at Haskell come to college with varying degrees of preparedness, Haines said. Some are talented and bright, others have to work at it, he said.
What makes Haskell's students different, Haines said, is that they "come from a background that has not allowed them to make it very well."
"That's the challenge of it and the beauty of it and the attraction of teaching," Haines said. "I learn stuff every day out here. There's always something new to surprise me."
Dennis O'Malley, a chemistry instructor who's been at Haskell since the fall of 1984, said teaching there "has been a learning experience the whole way."
THE OPPORTUNITY for learning is what prompted Dalies Devine to stay at Haskell after his one-year term as an IBM faculty representative ended. Devine retired from IBM last spring. When a job as director of computing services was advertised at Haskell, Devine decided to apply. He got the job and moved from New York to Lawrence.
Devine, who worked for IBM for 31 years, specifically requested a Native American school when he applied to IBM's faculty loan program. Through the program, IBM employees go to minority college campuses for a year. Because of Devine's interest in Native American cultures, he was pleased with his assignment at Haskell.
"This is the best assignment I could've had," Devine said.
THROUGH HIS travels, Devine said he was somewhat knowledgable about Native American cultures, particularly of the Southwest. But he said Haskell affords him the opportunity to "learn new things all the time."
Denise Low, an English instructor and local poet who's taught at Haskell for eight years, said she continually is gleaning new ideas and ways of looking at things.
Low was a part-time lecturer at KU before coming to Haskell. She teaches Indian literature, English 102, a composition course, creative writing and "sometimes" introduction to literature.
Low said she enjoys Haskell because of its size. At KU and Washburn University, where she taught a few semesters, "I never saw the same student twice," she said.
"YOU REALLY don't get involved with the department or the students in the same way," Low said.
Low, like Haines and other faculty members, feels a sense of family at Haskell she never experienced at other schools. She said being non-Indian never has been a barrier.
O'Malley said he has "never felt looked down on because I'm white."
He said he occasionally has felt out of place but has never been the target of overt discrimination.
Low said she probably has more in common with Haskell's students than they realize.
"Like many of them, my siblings and I were the first generation to get through college," she said. "I guess I really do identify with them," she said.
Low also feels a tie to the students because her first husband, and children, are Chinese-American.
SALLY Halvorson, coordinator of computer-assisted instruction, said she grew up with a Native American influence. When Halvorson's grandfather remarried after her grandmother's death, he married an Indian woman. So being around Native Americans is not a new experience for Halvorson, who taught Choctaw students at an elementary school in Mississippi before coming to Haskell. She is logging her 16th year with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"I like different cultures," Halvorson said, smiling. "I figure if I have one joy and they have another, we've got two joys."