UConn Magazine: This Land

Sage Phillips ’22 (CLAS) is unearthing more of UConn’s origin story

Phillips in her regalia in the UConn Forest.

Phillips in her regalia in the UConn Forest. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A “sage” is a mature person who is wise through reflection and experience. It also happens to be the name of the founding president of NAISA, the Native American and Indigenous Students Association, and newly named Truman Scholar and Udall Scholar —Sage Phillips.

Rising senior Phillips hails from Old Town, Maine, and is a member of the Penobscot Nation. She almost didn’t come to UConn. The political science and human rights major wanted to immerse herself in a robust Native American college community. Unsure if UConn’s offerings would be enough for her, she told her parents she wanted to go elsewhere. “Why don’t you take this as an opportunity to build a program?” her father suggested.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Phillips recalls thinking. “But if I can find a few other people, I think we can build something pretty special.” That is what she did. Her freshman year she joined UConn’s Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) and got a job in the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, where she helped plan Indigenous Peoples Week and Native American Month.

That wasn’t enough. “We were struggling with student involvement. I thought there must be more Indigenous-identifying students, so I created NAISA,” she says. A place where members can reclaim their cultural identities, NAISA also aims to educate the broader UConn community on native history, cultural diversity, and current events. “It’s going to show prospective students that when they get here, there’ll be a place they can call home. This is the community I so desperately sought to welcome me,” says Phillips, who also mentors local Native youth, represents the NACP on the President’s Council on Race and Diversity, sits on Student Affairs’ Student Leadership Council, and has an ex officio seat in the USG Senate.

Read on for more.