With one gift, a foundation is accomplishing much more than establishing a new area of study. They are advancing UB’s ambition to be one of the top 25 public research universities in the country, creating countless opportunities for an underserved population, and impacting lives throughout the community.
The gift—a $3.2 million grant to create a Department of Indigenous Studies—comes from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and is one of the most prestigious grants in the humanities.
The proposed department, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, will focus on critical areas related to Indigenous populations, including Indigenous languages, ecological well-being, health disparities, and politics and governance. The department will also anchor an expansive Indigenous Research Center, and will serve as a “home-hub” for broader Indigenous inclusion throughout UB, Western New York and beyond.
“The home-hub concept acknowledges Indigenous studies as an academic discipline at UB, in its own right, as well as a necessary component to other areas of study,” says Theresa McCarthy, associate professor of Native American studies and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Indigenous expertise continues to inform and advance numerous fields—including law, medicine, public health and environmental engineering. Yet only a small fraction of UB’s students and faculty members are Indigenous, and national estimates show that Native American students receive fewer than one out of every 100 PhDs annually. “By establishing a Department of Indigenous Studies, we can help address that gap and build pathways for increasing the number of Indigenous scholars in the U.S.,” notes Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The new department will also strengthen UB’s ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion. “Most of the time people come to my classes, it’s the first time they’re learning about Indigenous anything,” explains Jodi Maracle, adjunct instructor in the Department of Transnational Studies. These classes, says Maracle, give students, “a place to respectfully engage with something that is living and vibrant and breathing.”
UB, which is located on traditional territories of the Seneca Nation (one of the six member nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy), has a 50-year tradition of Indigenous scholarship, including a renowned Native American Studies program. The new department will build on these past strengths, while focusing on what comes next.
“The Indigenous worldview is very future-oriented,” says McCarthy. “We’re always thinking about how our actions affect the next seven generations.” Now, thanks to the generosity of The Mellon Foundation, it’s clear that UB and the community will benefit for many years to come.
“With the guidance of our new strategic direction, we at Mellon are committed to grantmaking that will help build just communities,” says Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “The University at Buffalo is exceptionally well-positioned to advance equity through this new Department of Indigenous Studies, and we are proud to support UB in this effort.”