Graduate & Professional Studies

We Are All Marquette: A Q&A with Alexandra Gambacorta, graduate research assistant in the Marquette Indigeneity Lab

The Marquette Indigeneity Lab allows undergraduates and graduate students to collaborate in meaningful ways with Native and non-Native faculty on several interrelated cross-disciplinary research projects in the sciences and humanities focused on Indigenous topics.   

Alexandra Gambacorta is a 2018 Marquette graduate with a double major in social welfare and justice and writing intensive English. She has since returned to Marquette for a master’s in English and will graduate this May. 

Here in a Q&A at the start of November’s Native American Heritage Month, Gambacorta discusses her work in the Indigeneity Lab, her passion for Indigenous education and more.

What work have you done for the Indigeneity Lab? 

It was an honor to be asked to join the lab as a graduate research assistant. This summer, Madison Black, Julie Solberg and I researched the Native American mission and boarding school archives from the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions records held in Marquette Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Special Collections. This extensive collection of records includes correspondence, financial records, photographs and other materials that document the colonial project of Native American mission and boarding schools in the United States and the attempt to convert, assimilate and westernize Indigenous peoples.  

Our summer project continued the foundational work of Marquette alumna and lab member Rebecca DeBoer and her research in the archives. We continued Rebecca’s work of building a website, not only for our mission and boarding school project, but also for the other two branches of our lab research: Dr. Bryan Rindfleisch’s Indigenous Milwaukee Mapping Project and Dr. Michael Schläppi’s Indigenous Wild Rice Project.  

The hope is that the Indigeneity Lab website will inform and create an entry point for the Marquette community as well as Indigenous communities and outside scholars. The student research is illuminating the rather obscure and rarely used archives related to Catholic boarding schools that will explore those schools and Indigenous student experiences. The website will be launched in the coming weeks. 

Indigeneity Lab on trip to the Field Museum in Chicago

What are you passionate about outside the classroom?  

Outside of the classroom, I have been passionate about working with Jacqueline Schram and Dr. Samantha Majhor towards educating the Marquette Women’s Lacrosse program about the Indigenous history of the game, its significance, contemporary traditions and the current challenges Indigenous players and teams face to be recognized as Sovereign Nations on the international stage.  

Having played on the Marquette Women’s Lacrosse Team from 2014-18 and doing a lot of learning and unlearning of Indigenous history myself, it felt necessary to embed this education into the program as we stand on Indigenous land, play alongside Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in the Menomonee Valley and participate in this sacred game of lacrosse. We have built a curriculum for the off-season semester, which includes contemporary voices of Native lacrosse players and community members, that we hope will continue to function as an integral component of the program every year. 

What other programs/efforts does Marquette currently offer to help with diversity, equity and inclusion of the Indigenous population?  

Jacqueline Fontaine Schram, director of public affairs and special assistant for Native American affairs, is an integral member of the Marquette community to support Indigenous students on campus. She brings intention and care to her work with the many communities and students she engages with and supports. She is a force on campus through her many initiatives and in her leadership with the Council on Native American Affairs, her support of the Native American Student Association (NASA), her organization of community events for Native students, alumni and community members and her efforts to recruit and retain Indigenous students.  

Likewise, Dr. Jodi Melamed has been integral in supporting the Native American Student Association and listening to student voices. She was instrumental in putting on the Critical Indigenous Symposium last school year. 

How might Marquette University continue to be a catalyst for increasing the diversity, equity and inclusion of Indigenous people? 

The Indigeneity Lab’s mission and boarding school project speaks to the various ways in which Marquette University continues to reckon with its own historical relationship with Indigenous peoples and knowledge production of shared Catholic and Indigenous relationships and histories.  

In 2020, the Native American Student Association provided the University with action steps to continue working towards diversity, equity and inclusion for Indigenous students on campus including a push for establishing reciprocal relationships with Wisconsin Tribal Nations, hiring staff to advance the Race, Ethnic and Indigenous Studies Program and build a campus environment that strives to work towards the success and retainment of Indigenous students.  

My hope is that we can move to evaluate institutional and systemic structures that perpetuate oppressive systems and listen to the voices of students, faculty and staff of color who have always led the way for points of change in our community and university.   

As we move to the future, can we ask the question of our entire student body: Do you have the opportunity to work with professors, faculty, administration and staff who look like you? Can we ask the question of our entire student body: Do you feel like you belong and are supported? Can we ask the question of the institution: What will you do in response to these answers?  

Gambacorta wishes to acknowledge the current Indigeneity Lab cohort of undergraduates who are doing such important work: Madison Black, Julia Solberg, Danielle Barrett, Miriam Schwabe, Marshall Kopacki and Clare Camblin. 

She also wishes to acknowledge and give thanks to the inaugural cohort of the Indigeneity Lab whose research, writing and initiative have allowed for the continual growth of the lab: Danielle Barrett, Bailey Birenbaum, Clare Camblin, Rebecca DeBoer, Cameron Fronczak, Alexander Liberato, Sir Lawrence Tender and Will Egan Waukau.