Five Colleges hires NAIS initiative staff

The Five College Consortium, which includes Mount Holyoke, has hired new staff to help build a model for Native American and Indigenous studies.

By Kevin Kennedy

The Five College Consortium 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, known as NAIS, among the consortium’s member campuses, which includes Mount Holyoke College. 

Titled “Gathering at the Crossroads,” the effort will allow the campuses to develop a set of new academic pathways for students interested in this field, 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 for 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.

Debra Butler, curriculum development fellow

As curriculum development fellow, Debra Butler works closely with faculty to expand academic opportunities for Five College students, including Mount Holyoke students. Her faculty partners include scholars who specialize in Native American and Indigenous studies, as well as those from other fields looking to integrate this material and methodologies into their coursework. 

Butler has worked with tribal and Indigenous communities in the southeastern 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 doctorate in environmental sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“We are excited to welcome Debra to the Native American and Indigenous studies community,” said Kiara M. 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 Native American and Indigenous studies 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.”

Rachel Beth Sayet, community development fellow

In her work as the community development fellow, Rachel Beth Sayet provides guidance and training recommendations to campus advisors, professors and administrators who work with Native American students. She also develops programming to serve those student communities and to cultivate experts in Native American and Indigenous studies.  

In addition, Sayet is expanding relationships with Native communities in the region and forging connections to the Five College community. She has years of experience working in both tribal libraries and museums, including as event planner for and curator of the Tantaquidgeon Museum on the Mohegan Indian Reservation in Uncasville, Connecticut, for the past two years. Sayet gives lectures throughout New England on Native foodways of the Northeast. She holds a master’s degree in anthropology from Harvard University, with citations 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,” said Vigil, referring to the original name of the Connecticut River valley. “Her deep-rooted family ties to the Mohegan Tribe 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 Native American and Indigenous studies initiatives that are funded by the Mellon grant.”

Butler and Sayet both began in their new positions in January.

Based in Amherst, Massachusetts, Five Colleges, Incorporated, is a nonprofit educational consortium created in 1965 to advance the extensive educational and cultural objectives of its member institutions — Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire, and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.