Supporting fellow Native American students
Gabriel Ortiz is in a position to help TU work more with Native American, Indigenous populations
By Kyle Hobstetter on November 9. 2022
When Towson University’s Office of Inclusion & Institutional Equity (OIIE) searched for a new vice president in the fall of 2021, the candidates held special forums with student leaders.
The last student to ask a question was Gabriel Ortiz ’23, who wondered what the aspiring leaders would do to help underrepresented students like him. Ortiz is a Mexican/Native American, whose home tribes are the Huichol and Navajo.
Ortiz was approached by a member of the OIIE staff and asked if he would give feedback about how TU could better engage with Native American and Indigenous students. Now, Ortiz is working with office as a student research assistant.
“My dad would teach me the spirit of everything, and I’ve always wanted to keep that alive,” Ortiz says. “We’re very proud of our Indigenous heritage, and it’s pushed me on my path a lot. I always thought it’s important to make sure people have that at TU.”
Growing up in Calvert County, Maryland, Ortiz was always taught to be proud of himself and his heritage.
“In my high school, I was usually the only person of color in my class,” Ortiz says. “I had no one that I could relate to. I started working with OIIE because I want other people who are experiencing this at TU to have something. And OIIE created this position so I can do that.
“I always thought TU didn’t care, but by working with OIIE and advocating for students, I truly see they do care.”
One of his first goals was to make sure all students who identify as Native American or Indigenous were accurately counted. In the semester enrollment counts available online, those numbers were always in the low teens. Relying on OIIE’s ongoing collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research, Ortiz thinks the number of students with Native American or Indigenous backgrounds could be more.
“What’s really important about that is the bigger picture, because it goes back to the history of Native American erasure,” Ortiz says. “But OIIE and the entire team have been so supportive in helping me fix this. They helped me understand that using my voice works, and I was able to help show students like me aren’t invisible.”
Ortiz has combined his passion for writing along with his passion to help people. Currently in his news writing class, he is working on a story about the Maryland House Bill 565, which would have the state change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.
“It’s great because it feels like my mind and my heart are finally aligned,” Ortiz says. “I love uncovering truth and focusing on spirituality. I feel like there is a lot of information to tell and a lot to wake people up to. I feel like journalism is the path to do that.”
Behind His Feathers
Ortiz sometimes wears vulture feathers in his hair as part of his Native American heritage.
“You can just feel the energy and the life coming off of the feathers. And it feels very intentional on where the feathers find you, because they provide a moment of self-reflection. These larger feathers, I usually wear them when I’m feeling proud about my culture or when I need the energy.”