Winter 2020

Inspiration that Persists

The enduring legacy of Alice Paul, the first Tohono O’odham member to earn a UArizona doctoral degree.

Alice Paul ’58 ’68 ’78 figures in the earliest childhood memories Karen Francis-Begay ’89 ’98 has of the University of Arizona. Francis-Begay’s alumni parents spoke highly of Paul, and she remembers Paul’s presence at events that brought the Native American campus community together.

“What I so vividly remember about her was, she had this very contagious hearty laugh, and her smile — her positive spirit — it was really just how she carried herself that always made you feel so good.”

Paul was a UArizona faculty member for 30 years. She served as head of the department of teaching and teacher education, among other positions, and was recognized nationally as an authority on early childhood education.

She also devoted considerable time to advising the university’s Amerind student club and the American Indian Alumni Club. After her retirement in 1998, she became a founding board member of the Tohono O’odham Community College. She passed away in 2005.

Francis-Begay is now the university’s assistant vice provost of Native American initiatives and a doctoral candidate in the College of Education. When she was an undergraduate adjusting to the differences between campus and the reservation, she says, she found Paul a warm and welcoming presence. Their relationship continued as Francis-Begay pursued a graduate degree and joined the UArizona staff.

Alice Paul / Lori Stiles photo | Karen Francis-Begay / Raina Ramirez photo

Francis-Begay remembers Paul’s consistent willingness to make time for students as a remarkable gift. Paul, she says, frequently dropped by the former American Indian Graduate Center to check in.

“I remember her advising us to push forward and never have fear or be intimidated. She said we needed more Native American graduates and professionals in every field,” Francis-Begay says.

Paul encouraged Francis-Begay and her fellow students to maintain their sense of identity, including their language and spiritual beliefs.

“That doesn’t have to go away because you’re on a big university campus. It’s all part of who you are, and you can take pride in it. She clearly understood that, having experienced it herself,” Francis-Begay says.

Francis-Begay believes Paul would be proud to see increases in Native American faculty and other signs that the university is a more inclusive environment. Still, more work remains to be done, she says.

In Francis-Begay’s current role, she coordinates Native American student initiatives with the goal of increasing access and success. She also works to mentor and support Native American faculty. She’s inspired to help others in the way she was helped.

“Once you have the degree, many more opportunities and doors open. Then this lightbulb sort of goes off, and you think, ‘That’s what people like Alice Paul and others have done for me.’ So I’m going to continue that.”

Among the many others Paul also inspired is her niece, Sandra Aley ’77. Paul encouraged her to pursue a college degree. Aley was the first in her immediate family to attend college, and in later years she wanted to afford the opportunity to others in her community who would not be able to do so without taking on heavy debt.

Aley made a planned gift to provide full scholarships for graduates of Flowing Wells High School, in northwest Tucson, to attend UArizona. When she died in January, a $4.6 million gift from her estate created the Sandra, Pamela, and Polly Aley Scholarship Endowment.

Francis-Begay has ties to the school district herself and is pleased Aley’s gift will help Flowing Wells graduates access the university. She attended elementary school in the district for a few years, and when she and her husband were choosing where to live in Tucson, they picked an area where their three sons would attend Flowing Wells schools.

“I felt like there was a real quality of education for my own kids, and they benefited from it a great deal,” Francis-Begay says.