A new scholarship named for Professor Rebecca Tsosie, currently on sabbatical leave from the Indian Legal Program, has been established with a $10,000 pledge from Dr. Gary Weiss and his wife, Cathleen, the parents of Melissa Dempsey, who graduated from the program in May 2011.
The Rebecca Tsosie Spirit of Excellence Award will be given each year to the student who is most committed to the ideals of the program and plans to serve the legal needs of Native communities.
Weiss, said Tsosie was a great influence on his daughter’s life, and her choice to attend the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
“The first time we visited ASU, we met Professor Tsosie and I was extremely impressed,” Weiss said. “She was very helpful talking about the school and community and excited and energetic. When we walked out of that meeting, I turned to Melissa and said, ‘There’s no question this is the place you should go. We don’t need to look any further.’
“In the following three years, I continued to be impressed, and we wanted to do whatever we could to help other students have the same experience, to have enough money that they could participate in a law journal without having to worry about where every single penny was coming from.”
Interim Dean Douglas Sylvester said the scholarship illustrates the strength of the Indian Legal Program.
“The Tsosie scholarship is a perfect example of how the community that exists within the Indian Legal Program – a community lovingly created by Rebecca Tsosie in her many years as Executive Director of the Program – creates a bond between student, faculty, and family that inspires people to give back,” Sylvester said. “This gift, directed to students in a time when tuition has greatly increased, will strengthen those bonds and provides a lasting legacy befitting of Rebecca’s role and vision for the Program.
“On behalf of the College of Law, I thank the Weiss’s for their generous gift–it will be put to great use.”
Kate Rosier, Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program, said the award honors Tsosie’s contributions to the program.
“The ILP wanted to do something special for Rebecca to thank her for her 15 years of service as the ILP Executive Director,” Rosier said. “We thought this scholarship for students was perfect to honor her.”
Tsosie said she was thrilled.
“I am extremely proud of this award, which is representative of the support and importance that President (Michael M.) Crow and Provost (Elizabeth D.) Capaldi place on serving the needs of Native students and tribal communities,” Tsosie said. “There is a legacy here at ASU, from the first days of the law school, when Judge William C. Canby Jr. taught the first federal Indian law classes and worked with tribal courts, to (former Navajo President) Peterson Zah, who was a Special Advisor to the president, to Diane Humetewa, who has taken on that role, and to LuAnn Leonard, the first Native member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
“Because of the support of these leaders, and the generous donations of caring individuals, such as Gary and Cathleen Weiss, the Native students at ASU are well-cared for,” Tsosie said.
Tsosie said Dempsey, who graduated in June, would have been an ideal candidate for the award.
“She saw Native issues in a broad consciousness and on an international level and worked to prepare herself to be able to serve on that level,” Tsosie said.
“She was always prepared, outstanding academically, and wrote a beautiful paper on environmental justice in Native communities. She was involved in the Native American Law Students Association and had a spirit of serving Native people. She also helped found the new Law Journal for Social Justice.”
“Our treasured ILP alumni also are examples of this,” Tsosie said. “They’re serving in tribal, state and federal governments and in private practice, doing work far beyond what we ever imagined, with impeccable ethics. They are a model for our current students to emulate in professional conduct with their peers, students, faculty and the tribal community.”
Melissa Dempsey said she was surprised when her father made the donation.
“I think my father felt compelled to contribute this money to the scholarship because he, too, feels strongly about increasing the legal rights of Native people,” Melissa Dempsey said. “From day one, he wanted me to attend Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law because of its Indian Legal Program.”
Dempsey said that she had studied Tsosie’s writings while earning her master’s degree at New York University, where her thesis focused on indigenous human rights and environmental justice issues. She was excited about meeting Tsosie when she first came to visit the College of Law.
“Like many of the ILP staff members, Professor Tsosie made me feel welcome, and I knew she was one of those rare professors who wanted to build relationships with her students. She was such a caring professor, as she always made time in her busy schedule to meet with me.”
Dempsey said that after she came to the College of Law, Tsosie helped her as a mentor and a friend and inspired Dempsey to help start the Law Journal for Social Justice.
“One of the things I respect most about Professor Tsosie is that she inspires all students, Native and non-Native alike, to be interested in Native legal issues,” Dempsey said. “It is important to encourage non-Native students in this area of the law, so they, too, can at least understand the perspectives and history of Native people.”