Fort Lewis College’s strategic focus of enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion has been bolstered by a new grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Over the next three years, FLC will focus on hiring more Native American & Indigenous Studies faculty, developing curriculum centered around reconciliation and the College’s boarding school history, and creating student and faculty pathways from regional partners such as San Juan College.
The proposed programs will provide FLC faculty and students with new K’é (kinship) inspired forms of connection and support while empowering them to critically examine and address complex questions of social justice and lead campus in understanding issues of equity, reconciliation, and solidarity.
"The funding from the prestigious Mellon Foundation is a transformative moment for Fort Lewis College, as it will allow our Indigenous faculty to create a new vision for Indigenous education at FLC,” says Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Cheryl Nixon. “The grant recognizes the collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, and administrators to imagine truly innovative programming that will shape Native American & Indigenous Studies at FLC and beyond."
The Mellon Foundation has a storied history in strengthening educational institutions and cultural organizations across the world through grants supporting the arts and humanities. In 2020, the philanthropic organization announced its grant-making program area would “focus entirely on social justice.” With the three-year $950,000 Higher Learning grant, FLC President Tom Stritikus, faculty, and staff will develop sustainable programming that will inspire, serve, and support Indigenous students with an emphasis on the humanities and social justice.
The grant has several important features and a significant objective is hiring more Native American & Indigenous Studies faculty to design and teach a "Research and Reconciliation" social justice curriculum, as well as other topics such as Indigenous languages. The curriculum will focus on training undergraduate students to research FLC’s boarding school history and how to empower them to think about new possibilities for social justice.
"This is an exciting time for FLC and NAIS since our Indigenous students have been asking for more faculty who look like them and who can identify with them."
“This is an exciting time for FLC and NAIS since our Indigenous students have been asking for more faculty who look like them and who can identify with them,” says Lee Bitsóí, associate vice president for Diversity Affairs and special advisor to the president for Indigenous Affairs.
"The Mellon grant will allow us to hire tenure-line NAIS faculty and expand the NAIS department, helping us to move forward with our strategic priority of hiring diverse faculty,” says Nixon. “It will also fund student-centered work, including the development of new NAIS courses, a new undergraduate research program, and a new "Research and Reconciliation" project focused on our boarding school history.”
To house this student-centered work, Nixon says there are plans for a new academic center for Indigenous pedagogy, language, and culture, which is part of what she called “a constellation of programs and institutional structures that bring our best ideas to life.” Other initiatives working in tandem with the grant include the continued development of the School of Education and Southern Ute Indian Tribe's Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute, the Indigenizing of curriculum through FLC’s other current Mellon grant, and the creation of student-designed projects and exhibitions at the Center for Southwest Studies. Bitsóí adds, “This was a great team effort that brought together different departments throughout the College, including our Native American & Indigenous Studies faculty and Native American Center staff, to identify unique needs and challenges that our Indigenous students face. Moreover, we are excited to begin this new chapter in the expansion of curricular offerings for all students at FLC.”
With these new focuses and enhanced strategies for the humanities, FLC leadership expects to see increases in student engagement, retention, degree completion, and graduate school aspirations—and more importantly, that Indigenous students will find their education to be deeply meaningful.
“Our greatest hope with these Mellon-supported initiatives is that our Native American and Alaska Native students are ready to use the humanities to understand the world they will lead and will change,” says Nixon.