Every student to walk the Rhode Island College campus does so for the prosperity of their future. Katherine 'Kate' Cross-Das is a Rhode Island College alumna with a legacy that touches the souls of students today. This alumna was an English major and Anchor Newspaper Editor who attended RIC from 1976-1979 in pursuit of her bachelor's degree. Two new endowments have been made in the name of Katherine Cross-Das for RIC English majors and Anchor Newspaper staff members.
Understanding the importance of these scholarships goes hand in hand with understanding who Katherine Cross-Das was. She was an artist, a poet and a dedicated advocate for people with mental illness. She avidly promoted mental health awareness and services. After walking in RIC's 1979 Commencement she went on to University of Rhode Island for her MA in English literature. Due to struggles with manic depressive bipolar illness her studies were put on hold in 1981. However, she preserved to complete her Master's thesis and returned to URI in 1985 to defend her thesis – subsequently receiving the MA in 1986.
As Editor of The Anchor, Cross-Das proved to be a compassionate leader. Friends and fellow former staff called her kind, loving, caring and nonjudgmental. Her communication skills were remarkable and highly admirable from her professors and fellow staff members. She had previously attended three schools prior to RIC, Manhattanville College in New York, Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts and Bryant University. While at RIC she felt the most success. She was an asset to teachers in the English department who were writing books and articles on the side. In 1978 and 1979 prior to graduating she was paid to help type, edit and proofread personal and professional works.
When it came to working deadlines were always met and topics, sources and information were never compromised. Ms. Cross-Das' husband, Dr. Deben Das, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Alaska Fairbanks added to this saying, “Her journalistic ethics were immaculate. She would not compromise on the sources and was very honest in her presentation. She was mindful of the respect for others. She was sincere and hardworking and prepared her articles with care.”
The academic excellence Cross-Das showed – compared with her admiration for art and literature – put into perspective by her personal battle with mental illness fueled her drive to advocate for those struggling. By advice of her physicians and counselors, Cross-Das dove into the reality of the arts full force. She had a profound passion for poetry, art, writing and reading and she wished to teach how these subjects could be therapeutic to those with mental illnesses.
In early 1990 she started to volunteer at the Denali Center in Fairbanks. In 1996 she became a part of the Fairbanks Alliance for the Mentally Ill (FAMI). She began by accompanying the president of FAMI to state capital Juneau to testify in front of the governor, senators and legislators for funding to support the needs of the mentally ill in Fairbanks. The then-president would refer to Cross-Das as the advocacy poster child. FAMI changed names to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Cross-Das climbed the ladder to office manager (1996-2002), newsletter editor (1998-2008), member at large of the NAMI Fairbanks board (2008), vice president (2009 and 2010) to president (2011 and 2012).
Cross-Das taught those suffering with mental illness, but she also taught and advocated for the education of mental awareness to legislators, policy makers and the public. This solidified her legacy as her teachings are still being used today to help advise about the stigma attached to mental illness. She is also distinguished for these efforts as they were all voluntary and for the pure love of helping others. Her teaching was also on the homefront as she taught poetry, art, literature, politics and international affairs to her husband and her son, Sunit.
Dedicated, supportive and diligent are some words to describe the beautiful and creative soul of Katherine Cross-Das. These are the same qualities sought for in students who apply for the Katherine Cross-Das and Deben Das Endowed Scholarships for The Anchor Newspaper and English. Katherine Cross Das was born in 1951 and passed away May 10, 2021, a month shy of her 70th birthday. A celebration of life is scheduled to be set this summer for her in Fairbanks.