Ruth Hallows (Ksm Lx’sgan)
First-generation Rankin Foundation Scholar, Ruth Hallows (Ksm Lx’sg̱a̱n), embraces vulnerability and community on her journey into higher education: “We don’t have the generational and historical ties to higher education as Indigenous people. Connecting weekly with other Rankin Foundation Scholars kept me going during the times I didn’t think I could do it anymore.” – Ruth Hallows (Ksm Lx’sg̱a̱n)
Ruth spent eight years finishing the associate’s degree she started in 2011 at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She took one class at a time, slowly but steadily completing her first degree in 2019. The idea of pursuing a formal education as an Indigenous person was overwhelming, but Ruth has always had a heart for uplifting her community in present day Alaska. For Ruth, this achievement allowed her a sense of independence and self-trust. Only 17% of Indigenous students are able to continue their education after high school due to the unique challenges Tribal communities face (The Hechinger Report, 2019). Despite the difficulties of navigating an educational system, Ruth remained steadfast in her belief that education was an essential tool to building a more secure future for her family and future generations of Indigenous people. Throughout her time working toward her associate’s degree, Ruth was in a particularly unhealthy marriage and her primary goal was to meet the needs of her children. The multiple roles she played were barriers she faced in completing her education. In 2020, around the time her marriage ended, Ruth knew furthering her education would be essential to supporting her children as a single mother. The progress she’d made pursuing her degree allowed her to earn minimum wage at best, and Ruth was unwilling to stop there.
She returned to school in 2021, at first taking an interest in public health. Ruth quickly began to connect what she learned in school with the gaps in care and community health she was witnessing in her Indigenous community. To meet her community’s needs, she changed the direction of her studies to center on Native Alaskan languages. She plans to continue her public health education by pursuing a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences. Ruth is working toward marrying her growing knowledge of Native history and ways of living with her interest in using nutrition as a tool for improving the quality of life of those around her. Ruth is a junior in college at the University of Alaska Southeast now, on track to graduate in four years, despite her non-traditional background as a student and single mom. While she was used to taking long breaks from her studies to manage her familial responsibilities, she was concerned about finding the financial support to stay in school. Ruth says that the Rankin Foundation Scholar Grant has opened doors for her to focus on her education for the first time in over two decades.
“I was really scared,” Ruth said, “and this was an incredible financial support that allowed me to concentrate on school and help my family at the same time.” The financial support was coupled with the Rankin Foundation’s vibrant and supportive community of Scholars who have their own unique aspirations for how to apply their education to benefit their communities. Before Ruth joined this community, she often felt out of place in academia. With the confidence and support of her advisor, a writing professor, and the Rankin Foundation, she found a sense of belonging and began believing that she could complete her bachelor’s degree.
“Financial help is amazing, but more than that, I need support navigating how to do higher education. I don’t know how to do this. My parents didn’t know, and neither did their parents. It’s hard and sometimes I felt alone, but the Rankin Foundation was so helpful. I learned about resources I never knew existed for mental healthcare, for medical providers, even to gain access to a car if I needed that. If any of the supports I received were threatened, I knew exactly where to look to ease my mind.” Throughout her now ten-year educational journey, Ruth has never felt as seen as she does now. She says that conversations with other non-traditional students who are Rankin Foundation Scholar Grant recipients normalized and validated the anxieties and insecurities she felt plagued by. She’s realizing there is power in embracing the fact that she is a non-traditional student, taking a non-traditional path. This self-confidence has enabled her to ask for help or understanding from professors when she has been late to turn in an assignment because of family duties. It has also helped her feel comfortable exploring different aspects of her identity. Ruth said she is spending her last year of college exploring the many intersecting identities that make her who she is. She believes it is most important during this time to find self-acceptance as a mother, a daughter, and a community member.
For Ruth, this journey has also included exploring her gender identity. She said the time spent exploring her identity within this chapter of her life is to her a gift she wants to take full advantage of. ”I am human first, without a gender. And then I am a woman.” Because Ruth has been able to spend these last three years focused on school and her positionality, she has found the space and time to bloom. Ruth grew up in a home far from any Native reservations. She said attending the University of Alaska felt like “coming home” to her, because it was the first time she found people and educators with so much Indigenous knowledge. She found herself while finding her community, and in doing so, she now embraces the many beautiful parts of herself.