Pamela L. Begay Appointed Director of the Buder Center

Faculty; Social Work

Pamela L. Begay, PhD, LCSW, MSW ’04, has been appointed director of the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the Brown School. Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation of Shiprock, New Mexico, joined the Brown School in January 2022 as an Associate Professor of Practice and in April 2022, she took the helm of the Buder Center.

“For over 30 years, the Buder Center has been a beacon of light for the highest caliber of students and researchers interested in understanding and addressing the needs of Indigenous populations. Pamela Begay is no exception. She is a bold, dedicated, and compassionate clinician and researcher that will lift up the next generation of American Indian leaders. The Brown School is proud to name her director,” said Tonya Edmond, Interim Co-Dean of the Brown School.

Established in 1990, the Buder Center is a scholarship program committed to the education of American Indian students earning master’s degrees in social work. It has grown into one of the most respected centers in the nation for academic advancement and study of American Indian issues related to social work.

As director, Begay will continue to advance the important work of the Buder Center to teach and train the next generation of social work professionals who want to work in tribal and urban settings. As a practicing clinician, she has a particular focus on boosting the number of Buder Center and MSW graduates who pursue accreditation as licensed clinical social workers.

“There are not enough Native clinicians to fill all the job openings available in Indian Country,” Begay explained. “Numerous barriers exist to getting licensed. It’s a long, expensive process. In my teaching, I talk a lot about licensing. I want students to know that I am somebody they can come and talk to about that.”

According to the Council on Social Work Education, only 1% of all social work graduates are American Indians.

While a self-described “clinician at heart,” Begay always felt a pull toward academia. “The drive likely came from having been a student for so many years and having had so many amazing instructors and mentors.”

Begay grew up straddling two different worlds. She spent half her life in Long Beach, California, and half on her reservation in New Mexico.

The situation allowed her to move seamlessly between them, but while living in Long Beach, her Native side often felt invisible. “We mixed in with everybody else. However, no one knew that there were actually Native people still around,” Begay said. She credits that experience of invisibility with influencing her career as a helping professional, with a focus on serving Native people in a culturally appropriate way.

“I want to be a supporter. For example, I don’t think kids have to get in trouble to have a social worker talk to them or see them,” she said. “I want Native people to be seen, heard and taken seriously.”

Begay earned a doctorate in clinical social work from Smith College, a master’s in social work from the Brown School, where she was a Buder Scholar, and a bachelor’s degree in American Indian/Native American Studies from the University of New Mexico. In addition to directing the Buder Center, Begay also serves as chair of the American Indian/Alaska Native concentration and maintains a private telehealth clinical practice in New Mexico. She is the senior editor for the Journal of Indigenous Research and an editorial board member of the Clinical Social Work Journal.