February 1, 2021: Five Colleges, Incorporated has hired two new staff members to help carry out a major effort to build a model of collaborative teaching and learning for Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) among the consortium’s member campuses. Titled Gathering at the Crossroads, the effort will allow the campuses to develop a set of new academic pathways for students interested in NAIS, as well as create new advising structures to guide students through these academic options. It is supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Debra Butler has been hired to the position of curriculum development fellow for the initiative, and Rachel Beth Sayet has been hired to be community development fellow. Both are three-year positions funded by the grant.
As curriculum development fellow, Debra Butler will work closely with faculty to expand academic opportunities for Five College students. Her faculty partners will include NAIS scholars as well as those from other fields looking to integrate NAIS material and methodologies into their coursework. Butler’s background is working with tribal and indigenous communities in the Southeast United States as well as with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals and the Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences on a range of issues surrounding environmental migration and climate mitigation planning. She is completing her PhD at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
“We are excited to welcome Debra to the NAIS community,” says Kiara Vigil, associate professor of American studies at Amherst College and co-convener of the NAIS Mellon Grant Advisory Circle overseeing the initiative. “She contributes academic knowledge that will be extremely helpful in guiding the NAIS certificate programs, and she will also help to further the efforts of faculty, staff, and students who are committed to strengthening and growing NAIS work here.”
In her work as the community development fellow, Rachel Beth Sayet will provide guidance and training recommendations to campus advisors, professors, and administrators who work with Native students, while developing programming to serve Native student communities and cultivate NAIS scholars. In addition, she will expand relationships with Native communities in the region and forge connections to the Five College community. Sayet, has years of experience working in both tribal libraries and museums, including being the event planner and curator of the Tantaquidgeon Museum on the Mohegan Reservation for the past two years. She also gives lectures at classrooms throughout New England on Native foodways of the Northeast. Sayet has a master’s degree in anthropology from Harvard University, with minors in museum studies and business communication.
“Rachel Beth brings a wealth of personal and academic skills and experience to her role as the community development fellow, and could not be better suited to help guide the strengthening of a Native American and Indigenous community within the Kwinitekw Valley,” says Vigil. “Her deep-rooted family ties to the Mohegan Nation reflect an on-going relationship that scholars, students, and community members across the campuses already have with this local Indigenous nation, and we are excited to see what more we can learn from her. Debra and Rachel Beth offer complementary sets of skills that make them an ideal cohort for NAIS initiatives that are funded by the Mellon Grant.”
Butler and Sayet both began in their new positions in January, 2021.