Before COVID-19 thrust academia into the virtual realm, Richelle Hill often burned the midnight oil on campus.
“When our class ended at 8 o’clock, she and another student usually stayed behind to study together,” recalls Julia M. White G’07, assistant professor of teaching and leadership in Syracuse University’s School of Education. “I was impressed with Richelle’s self-discipline.” Never mind that Hill, a 30-year-old mother of four, usually had family responsibilities waiting for her at home.
Higher education is not just a privilege, it’s a right—one long denied to her people, Hill says. A Cayuga member of Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario, she is painfully aware of how Native Americans are languishing in schools, on and off reservations.
Hill also knows that, despite being at a top-tier research institution, she may have to work twice as hard to get noticed by prospective employers. “I think many of us doubt ourselves because of what happened to our ancestors,” she explains. “Intergenerational trauma plays a huge part in why many Native Americans don’t pursue college degrees. We’re scared of not succeeding.”
Thanks to the University’s Haudenosaunee Promise Scholarship Program (supporting qualified first-year and transfer American Indian students), Hill is a junior in the School of Education’s selected studies program, which boasts a whopping 98% graduation rate. She hopes to parlay her training—including more than 270 experiential hours—into a career in special education.