Through her work, activism, and daily life, internationally renowned artist and SOU Professor Emeritus Betty LaDuke seeks to connect and inspire people, to remind us that we are strongest standing together and raising one another up. For LaDuke, endowing an SOU scholarship for Native American students is simply an extension of her way of living and responding to the world. “Lately, as I’m in my ninth decade, I’ve been thinking about what’s meaningful, and apart from my art, what can I do? For me, the answer is education,” she said. “Being a teacher and having teachers—that’s what made a difference in my life, all the difference in the world.”
As a child, LaDuke carried around a sketchbook, drawing the people living in her Bronx neighborhood. Later, she studied art at Denver University, Cleveland Art Institute, and Instituto de Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. She moved to Ashland in 1964, where she taught art at SOU for over 30 years. “My education would not have been possible without scholarships,” she said.
An article in the newspaper helped crystalize how LaDuke would direct the endowment. Because many Native American students face income disparities, discrimination, and a lack of representation, they subsequently have lower high school graduation rates. “I wanted to do something that would make a difference in people’s lives and to honor my kids and grandkids and their heritage,” said LaDuke. “The personal becoming global is something that has permeated my work,” she added. “A scholarship for Native students is part of that.”
Although teaching is not a requirement for the scholarship, LaDuke hopes to help someone who wants to be a teacher. “Often for Native students, the sense of your being and who you are is not honored in the educational system, and it is so important to see yourself reflected in the schools, to have teachers who look like you and materials that reflect your experience,” she said. “It’s just as important for
non-Native students to have teachers of various cultures and ethnicities,” she added.
LaDuke recalls her early experiences and the teachers who made a marked difference in her life. She especially credits her early teachers and mentors who expanded her world view and inspired her passion for social justice. “They had such an impact on the path my life has taken and the work I do even now,” she said.
Over the years, LaDuke has traveled extensively and worked to bring attention to issues of hunger and poverty in developing countries, as well as to women artists of color. “My interests came from being a teacher and learning about people and communities, and then sharing that knowledge with students,” she said. “We’re all lifted by one another’s experiences.”