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Tribal Membership Initiative Fellowship

The Tribal Membership Initiative is administered by the UC San Diego Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA) and aims to increase diversity by providing fellowships to incoming graduate students of Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian ancestry. These groups’ federal and state recognition depends not on their racial or ethnic designation, but on the political designation as enrolled members of a community to which the state has a political arrangement that includes responsibilities and obligations.

Eligibility

An admitted candidate for the Tribal Membership Initiative award must be able to document affiliation as follows:

  • Native Americans and Alaska Natives must be able to document membership in a federally recognized tribe. This can be done through ID cards, certificates of membership, letters from governing councils, or other valid documentation. View this website for a list of federally recognized tribes. 
    • If the applicant does not have an enrollment number, they may request a letter of support for admission as a part of the UCSD Tribal Initiative from their tribal chair, chair of the tribal educational committee, or other Tribal authority, as appropriate.  UCSD may decide to send the request for the letter of support on behalf of the applicant.
  • To verify Native Hawaiian ancestry candidates must be able to provide a copy of a Hawaiian Registry card from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs or a verification letter from Kamehameha Schools.

Eligible Degree Programs

Applicants who are admitted to one of the degree programs below and who have the necessary documentation are eligible for the Tribal Membership Initiative Fellowship

Masters of Arts (MA)

Masters of Engineering (M.Eng)

Masters of Education (M.Ed.)

Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)

Master of International Affairs (M.I.A.)

Master of Public Health (M.P.H.)

Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.)

Master of Science (M.S.)

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Full Time Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)

NOTE:  Masters of Advanced Studies (MAS) programs are not eligible.

Fellowship Application Instructions

  • Applicants who wish to be considered for admission under the Tribal Membership Initiative must complete the standard UC San Diego graduate admission application which includes providing letters of recommendation, test scores, and academic records/transcripts.
  • The application contains a section on the personal information page that asks applicants if they would like to receive consideration under the initiative. If yes, they must indicate their tribal affiliation on the application and provide the required documentation.
    • Documentation of affiliation with a federally recognized tribe may be in the form of a valid tribal identification card, a letter of verification from the tribal chair, or chair of the tribal educational committee.  View this website for a list of federally recognized tribes.
    • Native Hawaiian applicants should provide a copy of their Hawaiian Registry card from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs or a verification letter from Kamehameha Schools. 
  • Applicants should submit this documentation during the online application process or to the department/program to which they have applied.
  • Questions about the Tribal Membership Initiative fellowship can be directed to gradadmissions(at)ucsd.edu.

Award

Applicants with verified documentation and who are admitted to an eligible UC San Diego degree program are eligible for the fellowship as described below.

M.B.A., M.I.A., M.P.H., and M.P.P. fellowship recipients will receive a two year award.

  • GEPA provides support for year 1 which includes stipend of $23,250 and a maximum of $25,000 toward tuition and fees. Note:  professional fees are not included.
  • GEPA provides a one-time bonus of $2,500.00 for year 1.
  • The department or program provides support for year 2. Department support may be in the form of the following: fellowship stipend, salary from employment as a teaching assistant inside and/or outside the department, graduate student researcher salary, and/or other support.

M.A., M.S., M.Eng., and M.Ed. recipients will receive a two-year award.  

  • GEPA provides support for year 1 which includes a stipend of $23,250 and payment of tuition and fees. Note: professional fees are not included.
    • Where applicable, the department will fund payment of non-resident supplemental tuition. 
  • GEPA provides a one-time bonus of $2,500.00 for year 1.
  • The department or program provides support for year 2. Department support may be in the form of the following: fellowship stipend, salary from employment as a teaching assistant inside and/or outside the department, graduate student researcher salary, and/or other support.

Ph.D. and D.M.A. recipients will receive five-year awards.

  • GEPA provides support for years 1, 4 and 5 which will include stipend of $23,250 and payment of tuition and fees.  The department or program may supplement the stipend amount. Note: professional fees are not included.
    • Where applicable, the department or program will fund payment of non-resident supplemental tuition (first year only). 
  • GEPA provides a one-time bonus of $5,000.00 for year 1.
  • The department or program provides support for the years 2 and 3 at a comparable level or higher. Department support may be in the form of the following: fellowship stipend, salary from employment as a teaching assistant inside and/or outside the department, graduate student researcher salary, and/or other support.

Ed.D. and M.F.A. recipients will receive three-year awards. 

  • GEPA provides support for the years 1 and 2 which includes stipend of $23,250 and payment of tuition and fees. The department or program may supplement the stipend amount. Note: professional fees are not included.
    • Where applicable, the department or program will fund payment of non-resident supplemental tuition (first year only).
  • GEPA provides a one-time bonus of $5,000.00 for year 1.
  • The department or program provides support for year 3 at a comparable level or higher. Department support may be in the form of the following: fellowship stipend, salary from employment as a teaching assistant inside and/or outside the department, graduate student researcher salary, and/or other support.

Background & Rationale

Tribal membership in government-recognized tribes can be employed as a priority factor in the admissions decisions of public universities. Proposition 209 prohibits consideration of race ethnicity, gender and national origin, and the designations of American Indian, Native American, and Alaska Native are generally considered racial/ethnic classifications. However, tribal membership also describes a political category due to the unique political relationship between tribes and the federal government which acknowledges federally recognized tribes as political entities. Setting admission priorities in order to educate members of recognized Native American and Alaska Native political entities represents a legitimate responsibility of the University of California San Diego. 

In 1975 Congress enacted policies establishing self-determination for federally recognized tribes. This was based on the understanding that tribes have functioning governments that have inherent sovereign powers. Courts have recognized the importance of leadership training to the government policy goals of tribal self-sufficiency and sovereignty. Cultivation of a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry is necessary. The path to leadership must be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals. Educating children and future leaders is crucial to the effective management of complex tribal affairs. Without this, tribes will be impeded in exercising their sovereign authority and the federal government's policy of self-determination will be undermined.


With 17 tribes in San Diego County, the University of California San Diego has an affirmative obligation to educate tribal members. The following is a summary of the legal paper, “Tribal Membership and State Law Affirmative Action Bans” by Cruz Reynoso and William Kidder. Native American and Alaska Native federal and state recognition depends not on their racial or ethnic designation, but on the political designation as enrolled members of a community to which the state has a political arrangement that includes responsibilities and obligations. Tribes have an overriding interest in developing skills in each generation that will allow for the realization of tribal sovereignty, which includes education in order to prosper politically, economically, and culturally.

The group at the statistical bottom of all the scales thought to measure lack of opportunity is American Indians. A line of viable Supreme Court authority holds that equal protection of the law does not require strict scrutiny of laws singling out Indians for advantage or disadvantage, when “Indians” is understood to mean members of federally recognized tribes rather than Indians by ethnicity. - Judge Steve Russell

A body of federal cases, dating back to the landmark 1974 Supreme Court ruling in Morton v. Mancari, treat membership in a federally recognized American Indian tribe as a political classification, distinct from classifications based on race, ethnicity and national origin. Whereas federal courts reserve strict scrutiny for classifications based on race, ethnicity and national origin (including affirmative action programs), classifications based on membership in a federally recognized tribe are subject to the rational basis test, a far less stringent standard of review. Generally the federal government and related court cases recognize American Indians or Native Americans as all persons having origin in any of the original peoples of North America or the Hawaiian Islands, in particular American Indians, Eskimos, Aleut or Native Hawaiians. This is based on their membership in what were originally independent sovereign nations.