The Counseling Center added a new staff member, Gerald Shorty, assistant director of diversity and Outreach Initiatives, this semester.
Born in Shiprock, Shorty attended Nenahnezad boarding school in his childhood, he said. It was an adjustment coming from that academic setting to Shiprock High School, and later, college.
Shorty focused his studies in criminology at San Juan College then continued onward at the University of New Mexico where he would receive his bachelor’s degree in criminology with a minor in psychology, he said.
Coming from a background of poverty and academic disadvantages from the reservation, Shorty said he didn't feel prepared in his time at college. He said he takes accountability and had to engage in his institution in order to see change.
Influenced by the community, Shorty decided to pursue a career as an attorney, he said.
Originally, Shorty wanted to advocate for water and land rights, along with other resources that Native communities face disparities with, once he returned to the reservation as an attorney, he said. His plan changed when taking psychology at UNM and his career path would ultimately shift when experiencing time as a legal assistant at Law and Resource Planning Associates in Albuquerque, he said.
“I recognized how I can still help my community or just people in general too, with providing counseling services,” he said.
Shifting from law to psychology, Shorty said that Indigenous people are often underrepresented in the field of psychology. Supporting students who are interested in the field is a priority, he said.
There is a way of understanding Indigenous patients through cultural competence training, through a process of asking questions and connecting while in counseling, he said.
Kaitlyn Painter, president of Indigenous Society of Psychologists at Fort Lewis College, who identifies as Inupiac, said she would describe cultural competence in counseling as keeping an open mind to those you work with and the population you serve.
With his newly given title, Shorty has been soaking up information from conversations among faculty and students. Shorty said he hopes to understand the Native student population and develop ideas to better fit their needs.
Through literature and data, Shorty said he can understand what the Native community on campus may be going through. However, it’s the conversations he’s been having that has really had an impact on his understanding of the Indigenous experience here at FLC, he said.
From that, he hopes to provide surveys to provide workshops and events for those who may need it.
Since his time here, Shorty has been attending ISP meetings and having conversations with the members, he said.
At one meeting, the lack of representation at the Counseling Center was mentioned by a student, Painter said. The student described their hesitance to receive treatment at the counseling center because they felt the counselors did not understand where they came from, she said.
With Shorty joining the staff at the counseling center, she is hopeful in seeing change , Kaitlyn said.
“This is his first semester here, and there’s already so much that I’m seeing in the works when it comes to bringing more cultural perspectives.” she said.
As a member of the Society of Indian Psychologists, Shorty appreciates and loves to see the club Indigenous Society of Psychologists offered as a student organization on campus, he said.
“I like how they started their own student branch here,” he said. “It says a lot about the students here and the student organization that they are motivated and willing to be creative and shift things for their needs and goals.”
Painter, who will be graduating this spring, hopes to see Shorty involved with the Indigenous Society of Psychologists at FLC in time to come. There has been support on his end in providing his personal experience and advice in higher academics, she said.
“He comes and he talks with us and he laughs with us and he shares stories with us,” she said.
The Indigenous students at Fort Lewis College have shown resilience in succeeding in higher academia, Shorty said. It’s what made the time he has been here fun and exciting, he said.
“I love the energy and ambitions students have and the desire to change things,” he said. “They’re an inspiration.”
It’s what makes working with students so fulfilling, Shorty said. Native students can come from the same background as he does, he said.
The goal as a counselor is to get students to where they need to be in order to achieve their goals of bringing back what they learned to their hometowns, just as he wanted, Shorty said.
“I love seeing other Natives succeed!” he said, “That’s the best part when you know they’re succeeding and you know they're doing well.”