Princeton University has received a $5 million gift to endow a new professorship of Indigenous studies, which will build on the Ivy League college’s interdisciplinary strengths and expand its faculty expertise in an area of study that is critically important to the university. 

The donation, made by Wendy Schmidt and her husband Eric Schmidt, an alumnus of the university, will help enhance the understanding of Indigenous peoples and “the issues confronting them, in the United States and beyond,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber in a statement. 

“At a time when people around the globe are giving new and much needed attention to the multiple strands that compose national histories, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Professor of Indigenous Studies will strengthen a crucial field of teaching and scholarship at Princeton,” Eisgruber added. “Wendy and Eric Schmidt are visionary leaders who appreciate the value of university research and the importance of First Nations communities.”

The Schmidts are co-founders of The Schmidt Family Foundation. The foundation’s grant-making arm, The 11th Hour Project, works to create a world where all people have access to renewable energy, clean air and water, and healthy food. Their donation to Princeton aligns with the foundation’s growing grant-making to support Indigenous communities, primarily funding Native-led nonprofits like the First Nations Development Institute and providing direct support to tribes to advance self-determination through food sovereignty, movement building and land stewardship. 

Wendy, who serves as president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, was also an executive producer of the 2020 documentary “Gather,” which chronicles a growing effort by the Native American food sovereignty movement to reclaim their cultural identities by re-establishing traditional food systems. 

"Eric and I are deeply committed to developing the next generation of leaders and identifying and cultivating talent from all backgrounds — priorities that are closely aligned with Princeton’s,” Wendy said in a statement. “The thoughtful study of Indigenous cultures is an essential component of society’s reckoning with our own history. It’s our hope that this professorship will play a vital role in advancing that complex conversation and will extend and complement Princeton’s academic and co-curricular activities, including those that engage and amplify the voices of faculty, students and alumni from Indigenous backgrounds.”

According to a Princeton press release, the university’s “Indigenous scholarship draws faculty from more than 20 academic disciplines from history to American studies, and recent courses range from introductions to Native American and Indigenous studies to classes on Indigenous literatures and languages of the Americas.”

Endowed professorships are Princeton’s highest academic honor for faculty members. The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Professor of Indigenous Studies will catalyze and unite conversations on indigeneity across disciplines and engage other faculty and students in a broad dialogue.

Adding a new faculty member is a critical part of Princeton’s growing focus on indigeneity-related issues, such as disparities in health and policy, environmental challenges, language and culture, law and sovereignty, and race and opportunity. 

Eric Schmidt is the former chief executive officer of Google and former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company. He graduated from Princeton in 1976 and previously served as a trustee of the university.

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