Native American chosen for Student Government judicial branch

Ashley A. Williams, 05-26-2021

Dallas Bennett was recently selected Student Government Supreme Court Associate Justice. He aims to set an example for the younger generation on his reservation and is working to make education at the University of Miami more accessible for other indigenous people.
Dallas Bennett
Dallas Bennett, a sophomore majoring in history with a minor in political science, will serve as a Student Government Supreme Court Associate Justice. Photo courtesy Dallas Bennett


The University of Miami Student Government recently selected Dallas Bennett, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), as a Student Government Supreme Court Associate Justice. He is the first member of his tribe to serve in this capacity at the University.

In this role, Bennett authors court opinions following a trial, shares advisory opinions for the executive and legislative branches of Student Government, and serves as the judicial representative for the Senate Policy and Finance committee during the academic year.

“I want to go to law school, so I thought supreme court would be a good way to get started,” said Bennett, who has been involved with local and student governments since high school.

Since his youth, he has held governance positions on the reservation including as attorney general of the Junaluska Leadership Council, made up of EBCI students from the different school districts in his area. In this role, he passed resolutions that would go on to the tribal council.

Bennett said he has been fascinated with his community and the policies that affect it since he was a child. Though life on his reservation is very different from a city like Miami, he enjoys getting to live in the best of both worlds. 

“Coming from this little, small town and being around people I have known since I was born, is very different from being in a city like Miami,” Bennett said. “My reservation is very community-oriented, and everybody knows everybody. It’s a very laid-back way of life and everyone moves at their own pace.”  

He said that for those same reasons, he loves being a student at the University. When Bennett enrolled, he only knew of one other Native American student. Forming connections has not been difficult however, because Bennett is proud of where he comes from and open to learning and meeting new people.

During Bennett’s first year at the University, he formed an unlikely bond with a popular administrator—Patricia A. Whitely, the senior vice president for student affairs. He remembers meeting her at a “Pancakes with Pat” campus community event during the Fall 2020 semester.

“It was my second day on campus, and as I was walking by the Rat, Dr. Whitely yelled over at me to come introduce myself,” said Bennett, who is now a sophomore majoring in history with a minor in political science. “From there, our bond just grew—she’s like a second mom to me.” 

Since that day, Bennett said Whitely has been a mentor and has taken him under her wing and has helped him immensely. When he faced difficulty with virtual learning, Whitely was there to remind him of the resources available on campus. 

“He is an extraordinary young man, and I was thrilled to meet him and learn about his journey to UM as a Native American student from the Cherokee Indian tribe in western North Carolina,” said Whitely. She and John Haller, vice president for enrollment management, have reached out to the chief of Bennett’s tribe and hope to host him on campus when it is safe to do so.

Bennett hopes to continue making his tribe proud through his academic accomplishments. He plans to continue working closely with the University to recruit more Native American students.

As he prepares to enter his second academic year, Bennett also looks forward to working closely with The UPROAR ticket that now leads the Student Government administration, and he hopes to further bring all three branches together.

“I’m so excited to continue my education. All the things that I’m doing is helping me, but it is also allowing me to be a mentor and a role model,” said Bennett. “These kids see western North Carolina and think that they can’t get out of there,” he added. But Bennett said that he and others his age, are “working hard to show them that anything is possible.”