Meet Dr. Elizabeth Rule ’13, a writer, public scholar, policymaker, advocate for Indigenous communities, and enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

In this Indigenous Peoples Month Spotlight, Rule shares how the Native American Cultural Center at Yale is a hub for celebrations, socializing, studying, and advocacy and she reminds fellow Yalies of the importance of establishing authentic relationships with mentors

This feature is part of a series focused on amplifying the voices of alumni who are making an impact today and illuminating how the identities we bring to Yale transform both our community and the world. 

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale?

My most enduring memory from my time at Yale was participating in the Native American Cultural Center community. At the time, we didn't have our own building like they do now--we gathered on the top floor of the Asian American Community Center on Crown Street. But what we lacked in a physical space, we made up for in spirit and connectedness. It was so incredible to be able to learn from Indigenous students who came from a variety of diverse tribal backgrounds with different cultures, practices, languages, and issues than my own. The NACC was where we studied, ate, organized, and spent countless hours talking about how we could use our Yale educations and experiences for the benefit of our Indigenous communities.

How has your identity shaped your Yale experience?

Rule 2013 Mellon Mays and Edward Bouchet fellows celebration
2013 celebration of Mellon Mays and Edward Bouchet fellows

The Native American Cultural Center was where I really established a supportive network of friends, of course, but it was also where I connected with faculty and administrators who mentored me and set me on my career path. I'm the first person in my family to get a PhD and to go into academia, and it was through the encouragement of faculty and staff at Yale that I entered in a PhD program directly after undergrad. They connected me with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, who in turn introduced me to the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers, and eventually I found myself applying to graduate programs in my senior year. It was their encouragement and mentorship that inspired me to also become an educator and join the ranks of the very few Indigenous faculty member across the country. Now, I give back by volunteering as a mentor for these same programs and uplifting our upcoming generation of Indigenous scholars, thinkers, and leaders.

What is your hope for the future of the Yale alumni community?

DC 2023, meeting with NACC students and NACC Director, Dean Matthew Makomenaw
Meeting with NACC students and NACC Director, Dean Matthew Makomenaw in D.C., 2023

My hope for the future of the Yale alumni community is that we can collaborate to keep the spirit of curiosity and learning alive after our college years. One way I do this is by mentoring and connecting with Native American Cultural Center cohorts who come to Washington, D.C., every year, or who intern here during the summers. Even though I now speak to them from my position as a faculty member, I always inevitably learn so much from them as well!

What advice would you give to fellow or future Yalies? 

My advice to future Yalies is to find mentors. “Mentorship” was a term I heard constantly as an undergraduate, but I never truly knew what it meant or what it looked like. Mentorship in practice is a relationship, and you can establish this by taking classes, going to office hours, and discussing your questions or work with professors and administrators. Don't be afraid to say, “I want your mentorship!”

Elizabeth Rule, PhD (enrolled citizen, Chickasaw Nation) is a writer, public scholar, policymaker, and advocate for Indigenous communities. Dr. Rule was appointed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Chamber in 2023 as the first Deputy Secretary for First Nations in the history of New York State: a position dedicated to the support of Indigenous self-determination and well-being, and the highest-ranking Indigenous affairs role in the State. Rule also holds a Social Practice Residency at the Kennedy Center and is an Assistant Professor of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University. Her time at the Kennedy Center is being dedicated to the development of an Indigenous feminist television screenplay, Moon Time. Rule’s Critical Indigenous Studies research has been featured in the Washington Post, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, The Atlantic, Newsy, and NPR. She has also released articles in American Quarterly and the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, and has two monographs. The first, Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation’s Capital (April 2023, Georgetown University Press), analyzes historical and contemporary sites of Indigenous importance in Washington, DC. Rule’s second book project, Reproducing Resistance: Gendered Violence and Indigenous Nationhood, links reproductive justice and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (forthcoming). Rule is founder of the Guide to Indigenous Lands Project and creator of the Guide to Indigenous DC (2019), Guide to Indigenous Baltimore (2021), and Guide to Indigenous Maryland (2022) digital maps and mobile applications.

Rule’s work has received support from the Henry Luce Foundation, MIT Solve, Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, Center for Black, Brown, and Queer Studies, and more. In 2021, she was recognized as an AT&T Women’s History Month Honoree, was named among the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s “40 Under 40,” and received the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Innovation Award. Prior to joining American University, Rule served as Director of George Washington University’s Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy. Rule received her PhD from Brown University, and BA from Yale University.

Editor's note: Interested in becoming a mentor or a mentee with the Yale alumni community? Join Cross Campus, Yale's online networking, community-building, and mentoring program. Cross Campus facilitates relationships between Yalies- whether that's alumni to student or alumni to alumni.

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