Social Justice Series: Theresa Runstedtler on Race and Drugs in the NBA

When picturing professional athletes it can be easy to picture affluent, privileged individuals—most often men—with the means to live extraordinarily extravagant lives. This picture can involve a wide variety of ethnicities, and while many immediately imagine a male bodied individual, others may envision a woman as the archetype for competitive athletics. However, if I were to discuss a connection between drug use and professional athletes, the image offered by media becomes almost entirely limited to black, male athletes. In discussing the connection between drug use and professional athletes, Theresa Runstedtler suggests this connection is more than a coincidence, and is instead the result of deliberately oppressive history.

As part of the continuing Social Justice Series Runstedtler drew on a chapter from a book she is writing to discuss the formations of race, gender, and class in the history of sports. These issues were specifically addressed through the lens of drug use and control within the NBA. While many discussions of the same topic begin with the death of Len Bias in 1986 to a cocaine overdose, these discussions miss the history of racial exploitation leading up to his death.

While the death of such a famous figure has been used to validate increasing sanctions on drug use in sports, these laws were instituted much earlier. Players within the NBA had long since become dependent on drugs to cope with the demands of their sport, and in many cases coaches and staff would offer drugs to players directly. Only when franchise owners and NBA promoters were faced with the dilemma of marketing newly introduced black players to a largely white fan base did drug use become a target for public scorn.

First by vilifying the use of drugs, and then by associating its use with individual black players and their communities of origin the NBA was able to draw attention away from its formerly liberal attitude towards amphetamines. Additionally, this move allowed for greater control over players’ actions and therefore more direct control over the primary source of income for the Association. Under the name of pure sportsmanship and player safety, African American athletes in the NBA have been targeted as a means of shifting blame away from those in control, as well as maintaining a positive public image for the sport as a whole. Without a critical eye the circumstances surrounding the façade of drug use and black athletes is accepted as reality. As we continue to see signs of additional false narratives careful analysis like that given by Runstedtler and many others at the Social Justice Series become increasingly valuable.


Check out our Social Justice Series Website to learn about our upcoming speakers.

Check out the Masters in Public Anthropology Website to learn more about the MAPA program.

Meet thejoshua-schea-300 Writers:
 Joshua Schea is a PhD. student at American University researching urban private schools. His research is focuses on the question of how private schools address the issue of inequality as it exists in their surrounding environment. Joshua is currently in his second year at AU.


Jeanne Taverne: Pushing for Healthcare in a Broken System

Having worked as an RN for thirty-four years, Jeanne Taverne is well-acquainted with the struggles her patients face. “Unjust social and economic policies contribute to health inequity,” she says. “I have seen clients coming to our clinics that do not have access to health care because of lack of insurance. These clients need an advocate to help them navigate through the health system.”

Last July, Jeanne, a genetic coordinator with the Department of Public Health in Cook County, Illinois, learned about the new Health Inequity and Care certificate offered by American University’s Anthropology Department in collaboration with National Nurses United (NNU). Seeing a chance to bolster her understanding of health issues and expand her advocacy efforts, Jeanne applied for the program and received a full scholarship from NNU (available to members of the union). With five core courses that address the root causes and features of health inequity–including neoliberal globalization, militarization, technological encroachment on healthcare providers’ scope of practice and their ability to advocate for their patients, geographic disparities in health and more–the program is designed for students interested in better understanding health and healthcare injustice in order to more effectively advocate for healthcare for all. The online class format provides a unique opportunity for experienced registered nurses to study alongside graduate and undergraduate American University students in virtual classrooms.

Jeanne took her first course in the program–Neoliberal Globalization and Health–in Fall 2016. She called the course “well-organized and intense.” Students were asked to examine the growth of neoliberalism in the current-day ever-more interconnected world. For their final term project, students had to apply what they learned in class to explore in greater depth the experience of disease, focusing on the contributing social and political factors. Using the 2014 outbreak of Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) as a case study, Jeanne analyzed the resurgence of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. In her final project she examined a combination of structural issues like limited access to healthcare, the impact of the anti-vaccine movement, and the dangers posed by decreasing effectiveness of certain vaccines. She argued that health risks associated with ineffective vaccines are symptoms of the political and economic structure of neoliberalism including efforts to privatize public resources, erode labor protections, and commodify health services at the expense of public health.

For Jeanne, the course was a chance to more deeply explore issues she is already well-aware of as a healthcare practitioner. “I’ve seen how impoverishment makes a person sicker,” she states. “But the fragmented and unsuccessful services for the poor we deal with as nurses on a daily basis are only the tip of the iceberg.” As a nurse and a nurse educator Jeanne says she appreciated how the course helped her understand the similar harmful impacts that have resulted from market-based restructuring in healthcare worldwide. “Policies around the world have been disastrous for health care delivery and access,” she states. But these policies are being challenged “through transnational alliances between groups that are struggling for better wages and working conditions, environmental protection and democracy, freedom and social and political justice worldwide.”

Jeanne now uses the knowledge she has gained in the Health Inequity and Care program in her practice. She looks forward to completing the certificate, and asserts that “the program provides motivation for us in healthcare to continue to do what we are doing now … pushing for better healthcare for all.”


Check out the Health Inequity and Care Website to learn more about the Certificate program.

Check out the Masters in Public Anthropology Website to learn more about the MAPA program.


Meet the Writers: Bethany Zaiman is a current graduate student at American University. Her research focuses on the United State’s health industry, the institutions currently responsible for healthcare policies, and their relationship to global health disparities.


Social Justice Series: The Refugee Crisis and How You Can Help

We can all do something. This was the message delivered by the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars at the Social Justice Colloquium on February 27th. Faced with the near endless barrage of crises visible to anyone with a television or smartphone, these young scholars sought to encourage action in whatever way possible to address the current refugee crisis. In light of recent political actions taken in our country, it is imperative that those who seek to alleviate the current catastrophe both understand the situation and commit themselves to making a difference.

After providing a brief history of the Syrian Civil War that began in 2011 and has fueled the refugee crisis, the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars described the role transit routes and national boundaries have played. The Balkan Route—originally the most frequently used avenue from Turkey to Germany—has been the focal point of several aggravations to the crisis.  The route runs through Greece, both amplifying the pre-existing financial stresses in the country as well as provoking refugees to continue on to countries such as Germany where they are more likely to find employment. This route has been made particularly impassable since the border between Macedonia and Greece has closed, resulting in many deportations which in turn simply add to the growing crisis as those people attempt the same journey a second, third, or even fourth time.

The lock down of so-called transitory states such as Greece has created a scenario in which the number of stateless persons has grown to an estimated 10 million individuals, with roughly 300,000 refugees arriving every month in Greece. As more and more people pour into the country refugee camps have grown exponentially, and on a trip to one such camp the Frederick Douglass Scholars saw up-close  the terrible conditions and lack of aid present within these camps. Having gained access to the camp through the U.N., the scholars sought to provide aid in whatever way they could, and learned a lot about the crisis first hand as well as how to help those in need. Yet, the message they came home with was to never do what they did.

Rather than attempting to serve through a large NGO or the U.N., both legitimizing their lack of direct action and granting support to that sort of organization, the Scholars suggested everyone find a way to support smaller grassroots groups. One grassroots group mentioned several times was the Elpida home, and in their conclusion the Scholars called for anyone who could to offer support from where they are. Although visiting these camps by volunteering for the U.N. can give good face time to some organizations the groups suggested some more effective methods for aiding in this crisis. Offering volunteer support to local refugee organizations or providing monetary support to overseas, grassroots organizations truly seeking to change the current state of affairs and grant relief to the millions of refugees desperately in need of something different might actually be more helpful than traveling to the camps themselves. As legislative action taken by the current U.S. administration continues to aggravate the crisis, effective action is needed, and all those who can help are being called to grant support to those who are already trying to change their own lives for the better.


Check out our Social Justice Series Website to learn about our upcoming speakers.

Check out the Masters in Public Anthropology Website to learn more about the MAPA program.

joshua-schea-300Meet the Writers: Joshua Schea is a PhD. student at American University researching urban private schools. His research is focuses on the question of how private schools address the issue of inequality as it exists in their surrounding environment. Joshua is currently in his second year at AU


The Community Voice Project: A Conversation with Nina Shapiro-Perl

Since 2008, AU Filmmaker-in-Residence Nina Shapiro-Perl has directed the Community Voice Project – a community storytelling initiative that connects AU anthropology students with film students, giving them the opportunity to collaborate on authentic work on behalf of DC communities.

We talked with Dr. Shapiro-Perl about how the project came to be, and we reached out to a couple of her students to learn about their experiences.

The vision behind the Community Voice Project

Nina Shapiro-Perl has a long history as an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker. For 20 years, she worked with the Service Employees International Union, documenting the stories of low-wage workers around the country.

“In the course of my work, I found that many social justice organizations and community organizations really needed well-made documentary materials to tell their stories to the public – to post on their websites, to use for fundraising. And yet they had no money or expertise to do that, or the time to make the films,” Nina said. “On the other hand, I knew anthropology students were always looking for ways to bring their research interests out to the public.”

The idea for the Community Voice project sprung from Nina’s desire to bridge those gaps, uniting students and organizations in common interest. “My idea was that students would be working in the greater Washington community to capture the stories of what I call the ‘unseen’ and ‘unheard’ – people that are left out and erased from the public discourse all too often. Not always, but often,” Nina said. “Immigrants, people of color, poor people, gay people, and others.”

Her goal was to train students in making short documentary films and short, self-told films called digital stories, taking viewers into the lived experience of people we don’t often hear from.

“What happens in this process, at its best, is that both the community members and the students themselves are changed by the experience,” she said.

What the course looks like for students

The Community Voice Project has evolved since 2008 and now has a larger focus on digital storytelling. Students work to help create short, four- or five-minute digital films, written and directed by the community members themselves.

To prepare, students spend the first four weeks of the semester creating a digital story about their own lives, featuring a moment of transformation.

“The students have to go to a deep place emotionally in thinking about their life. It’s very, very hard to do it,” Nina said. “The reason I have them do this is that for the next ten weeks of the class, they are going to be helping a community member tell a story of transformation. My students need to learn how hard it is, and they need to understand the responsibility attached to it.”

Her anthropology and filmmaking students partner with community organizations to help tell individual stories.

“It’s a beautiful and unfiltered way to hear from people who are often in the shadows,” she said. “You remove even the filter of the documentary filmmaker and the anthropologist. Instead of imagining what that person is really trying to say, the person tells it themselves.”

While anthropology students aren’t required to have film experience to enroll in the class, Nina has found that many students do bring some digital filmmaking skills with them. There is also a range of resources – from a skillful teaching assistant to resources in the library– available to offer support. Film students arrive in the class with a specific set of filmmaking skills, and they team up with anthropology students on projects.

“Anthropology students have much to teach film students, too. Technical skills aren’t everything,” Nina said. “Anthropology students are extremely well-trained and bring so much understanding and texture to the class. It’s by no means a one-way exchange.”

The impact of the Community Voice Project

Since the Project’s inception, students have produced dozens of films and digital stories in collaboration with over 30 community organizations, and they’ve left with new skills for applying their anthropology training to real-world problems.

“Students have created more than 75 films focused on the ‘other Washington,’ not of political, glamorous, high-profile Washington, but of working class, impoverished, homeless Washington,” Nina said.

When the films are new, organizations put them on their websites, using them for fundraising and to open community meetings. All the work has been archived digitally and is accessible to the public here:

The Community Voice Project is part of the School of Communication’s Center for Media and Social Impact, so films have a wider audience and distribution.

Films by featured students

  • Bridget Klein produced a story for Nina’s class in conjunction with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, called “Mitchell’s Story.” Nina said, “It’s a remarkable short film done by a Deaf student of mine about a homeless man who was Deaf. When the Council showed it at a fundraising breakfast, you could hear a pin drop. People were just stunned by it. You don’t see things like that. The insight into what it means to be homeless, but not filtered through another person. The subject himself talking. It was also extraordinary because the student who worked with him was Deaf herself.” 

Bridget Klein collaborated with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place to create a short film about Mitchell

  • Kyriakos Iliadis took Nina’s course in Fall 2015. His project was a collaborative effort with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum for an exhibition titled “Twelve Years that Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963- 1975”. Kyriakos worked with a community member to help create a digital story about her experience growing up in Washington. He said, “This course is a great model of public anthropology because the product produced is something that benefits all collaborators. The goal of the class is not just to write a term paper that probably you and your professor will only read, but instead to apply your skills as a social scientist to create something that can be shared and disseminated for the benefit of the community.”

Kyriakos Iliadis assisted Cecilia Johnson on her digital story.

  • Tabria Lee-Noonan also took the course during the fall 2015 semester. Her personal project was about the death of her grandmother who raised her, and the feeling of being surrounded by family the night of her loss. She said, “This class was significant in many ways for me. It made me explore the idea of vulnerability, which is something I’ve never done in an academic context, and that which I’m terrified of on a personal level. It was an experience that made me question the ways in which we share our vulnerability, how we can control the message to convey exactly what we mean, and how to create the impact we wish to have.”

Tabria assisted Rosalind Styles on her digital story.


The MAPA program is committed to helping students find ways to connect with meaningful issues through authentic work. Find out more about the master’s degree in public anthropology.



Social Justice Series: Sentient AI, Intimacy, and Ethics

Have you ever wondered what ethical dilemmas would become apparent with the introduction of sentient artificial intelligence? Or perhaps more specifically, what problems might lie in having intimate relationships with sentient robots? These are the questions asked by Rebecca Gibson at the Social Justice Colloquium of February 6th where she delved into a number of issues almost exclusively discussed in science fiction. Thanks to the research of those like Rebecca, we can be prepared for the Valentine ’s Day in the future when these issues become a reality.

Rebecca Gibson is a PhD candidate at American University, whose dissertation research is focused on the impact of corsetry on skeletons, yet as evidenced by the topic of this article, her interests are incredibly diverse. She became interested in the ethics of artificial intelligence due to the lack of information on the topic. Her work on this topic has already been published and discussed elsewhere, and is driven by the universal question in Anthropology—what does it mean to be human? Once this question and some of the answers it has received are applied to the concept of artificial intelligence where does the discussion lead us?

Beginning by discussing the philosophers of past centuries, Gibson pointed out that being human has meant a number of things to different people. For Descartes the ability to think granted some sort of personhood, while for Levi-Straus this identity came from our ability to tell stories pieced together from individual experiences. But how do we determine the presence of personhood in created humanoid AI, as we see so often in Sci-Fi literature and film?

Rachel, for example, from the Blade Runner film or its print precursor Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a humanoid robot who is unaware of her existence as a created object, and is therefore convinced of her own personhood.  Data, an Android form the famous Star Trek franchise is also an example of artificial intelligence, yet he is completely aware of this fact and exhibits emotions, tells stories, owns a cat, most definitely thinks, and, at one point, becomes “intimate” with a human officer aboard the same star ship. What criteria can be used to judge whether these two individuals are indeed persons, regardless of whether they know how they came to be?

For Rebecca, this discussion brings up themes of sentience, free will, and agency. Sentience and free will are difficult to pin down even in the case of known humans; yet agency, or the ability to make decisions, was more suited to our 45 minute discussion. Humans make decisions every day, about what to eat, what to wear, and who to be with. But how would an artificially created being make decisions, and further, would this decision making power be enough to qualify as a person?

The characters discussed above, as well as some others such as Eva from the film Ex Machina exhibit the ability to make their own decisions. What does this mean for their interactions with human beings? As creations, should these androids and robots be relegated to a servile existence as inhuman objects? Or does their ability to make a choice give them the right to do just that?

This question becomes particularly important in the case of sexual companionship, and how to address the issue has not been definitively solved. Rebecca Gibson’s presentation did not seek to answer all of the relevant questions, but simply to open the floor to discussing the possibility of artificial intelligence before it becomes a reality. This future may be closer than we realize, and having discussions such as this about ethics may help prevent pain suffering on the part of any future created intelligence.


Check out our Social Justice Series Website to learn about our upcoming speakers.

Check out the Masters in Public Anthropology Website to learn more about the MAPA program.

Meet the Wrijoshua-schea-300ters: Joshua Schea is a PhD student at American University researching urban private schools. His research focuses on the question of how private schools address the issue of inequality as it exists in their surrounding environment. Joshua is currently in his second year at AU


Social Justice Series: Neofascism Knocking at the Door

There has been a great deal of discussion about the recent presidential election, with many people attempting to understand what made this such a unique moment in our countries history. Some, however, have suggested that although the events of the past months appear so removed from our past they can be more effectively understood when compared to the experiences of other nations. Dr. Ali Erol made just this sort of comparison in this year’s first Social Justice Colloquium, discussing contemporary fascism, the state of affairs in Turkey, and the parallels emerging within our own country.

Dr. Erol, a lecturer in the School of International Service used his research in Turkey to explain certain aspects of Trump’s presidency. Recep Edrogan is the current president of Turkey, and came into office in 2002. Dr. Erol suggested that the policies used by Edrogan to gain and hold on to power can be seen already in use by President Trump. Ultimately, these two administrations exemplify a new wave of neo-fascism in contemporary international politics, identifiable by the strategies employed by leaders such as Edrogan and Trump.

The first strategy discussed by Dr. Erol is the implementation of Neo-Liberal ideology as a tool of a fascist agenda. While Fascism relies on nostalgic memories of a better time from the past in order to legitimize control, Neoliberalism promotes personal choice as the catalyst for making a better future. These two ideas appear at odds, but the tension allowed Edrogan distract those in Turkey from the gradual buildup of power afforded to his position. Here in the U.S. the current administration encourages citizens to join in making a better future grounded in the past—a confusing agenda that is made simple by the call to “make America great again”.

Dr. Erol pointed out further similarities in the creation and treatment of categories of “undesirables”. In the case of Edrogan the term terrorist was used to describe opposition to his regime, simultaneously delegitimizing their authority and giving credence to the constant state of emergency currently in place, giving the administration in Turkey its vast authority. The Trump administration has employed very similar tactics, using words such as vandals, extremists, and paid agents to discredit any resistance.

These similarities and more exist between the two administrations, including the justification of violence and attempts to control the media. Yet Dr. Erol ended the talk by suggesting a number of ways events could go differently here. By learning from the mistakes made in Turkey, we can prevent similar events from taking place. By taking the opportunity now to engage in grassroots movements, to provide alternative narratives through discourse, and by focusing opposition on particular issues history can be kept from repeating itself. As exemplified in the events surrounding the recent travel ban, these steps are both necessary and still within our power.


Join us every Monday at 4PM in the Battelle Humanities Lab for the Social Justice Series.

Check out our Social Justice Series Website to learn about our upcoming speakers.

Check out the Masters in Public Anthropology Website to learn more about the MAPA program.


Meet the Writers: Joshua Schea is a PhD. student at American University researching urban private schools. His research is focuses on the question of how private schools address the issue of inequality as it exists in their surrounding environment. Joshua is currently in his second year at AU.


Excavating the Past: A Look Into the Lives of Transient Workers

Imagine spending several weeks rediscovering forgotten people, letting them tell you about their life and their struggles, and then bringing that story to the rest of the world. This is exactly how Justin Uehlein and a team of American University students spent their summer, excavating a site in Southern Pennsylvania. Justin is a PhD. Student working on his Dissertation and he led a group of 2 graduate students and 3 undergraduates on a field school at a hobo jungle where he is currently conducting research.

This was an incredible opportunity for students to learn first-hand about excavation methods in the field of Archeology. Several of the students participating in the field school had never had any Archeological experience, and the field school allowed them to work closely with Justin and his advisor Dr. Daniel Sayers.

Justin’s research involves researching transient laborers in capitalist society, and in specific he has focused on hobos in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. The site of his dissertation work is a hobo jungle, or camp, located next to a river under a trestle bridge near Delta Pennsylvania. The field school offered students the opportunity to see the way hobo jungles would appear where there was access to transportation and available work, such as the quarry in Delta.

Justin has used this insight to develop a predictive model for locating additional hobo jungles, which he has already used to test 26 sites across the northeastern United States.  This model could lead to a larger project detailing the experience of transient laborers who lived at these sites, and Justin hopes this will provide research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students going forward. Even now, some students are taking full advantage of this research to advance their own work.

Margaret (Maggie) Stone is a master’s student who participated in the field school this summer, and she has used the experience to frame her graduate research. Maggie has begun developing a website which focuses on the Delta hobo site, and “gives a rundown of Archeological process and what it looks like in the field”. This website will serve as part of her final research project, and when completed will give individuals the opportunity to explore the exciting discoveries at the Delta site, as well as learn more about the discipline of Archeology.

Justin presented this research at the weekly Social Justice Colloquium. By presenting this work in a variety of formats, Justin, Maggie, and others who have contributed to the research seek to clarify the relationship between transient laborers such as hobos and the capitalist system. The necessary and undesirable condition of transient labor no longer bears the same appearance of hobos from the early 20th century. However, by better understanding how hobos lived and sought after work we may gain a better understanding how people seek out temporary work today.


If you are interested in learning more about the work students at AU do or about the public anthropology program you can check out our MAPA page.


The Question of Hope in Palestinian Resistance

The Social Justice Series continued this week with guest speaker Irene Calis. Calis recently relocated to the DC area from Rhodes University in South Africa. She is an anthropologist concerned with issues of social justice and has focused much of her work on the ongoing resistance struggle in Palestine.

Calis’s talk “Hope against the evidence? The Underside of Resistance Politics in Palestine” explores the struggle of emancipatory politics through the reality of everyday life in an oppressive regime.  

Palestinians, particularly those in the Northwest region where Calis focused much of her work, face consistently harshening conditions. The confining reality of life within the Israeli state security apparatus means the continued loss of daily freedoms, limited access to water and land, and constant reminders of one’s own mortality.

Calis asks the question, “What does it mean to survive?” While many of the research and humanitarian narratives coming out of Palestine are imbued with a sense of hope and an optimistic stance on the power of resistance, Calis’s talk suggests instead that hope is imposed on those narratives by the researchers.

The Palestinian reality that Calis has recorded tells a much different story. While many of the participants in her research are involved in resistance efforts, they also struggle with chronic stress and collective despair. They are surrounded by constant threats of violence and death to themselves and their loved ones. The reminders of those they have already lost to the resistance are ever-present. Many of them, particularly those in the younger generation, wonder if they have any future at all.

What does it mean to fight for a more just tomorrow if you don’t actually believe tomorrow will come? What does it mean to build a resistance when you are uncertain of having any future at all? How do you keep surviving when survival doesn’t seem likely? These are the tensions that Palestinians in the fertile plains are constantly negotiating; and Calis is hoping to bring them to the forefront of resistance politics.

For those of us who plan on doing our own research alongside communities resisting and  suffering through structural violence, Calis’s presentation was an important reminder. The experiences we aim to capture are complex and nuanced. To imbue them with a false sense of hope could erase the reality of peoples’ lived experiences. If we are analyzing violent systems then we must acknowledge how that violence shapes people’s everyday lives. If we can’t recognize the despair and trauma that exist in these situations then we run the risk of not understanding the necessity of ending these violences.


Interested in learning more about social justice and public anthropology? We’d love to see you at our next event. For a list of future speakers please see the Social Justice Series. If you’d like to learn more about our program, please check out the Public Anthropology page.


Jeanne Hanna on “Brexit” & Anthropology of “Right-Wing” Groups

As a self-described “political nerd at heart,” AU anthropology PhD candidate Jeanne Hanna is having quite a year.

Her current research focuses on the UK Independence Party (UKIP), exploring the social, economic, emotional, and political issues motivating people to support this political party.

Jeanne was in the country for the June 2016 Brexit referendum, which initiated the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. Her inquiries include how UKIP’s supporters are attempting to reshape the party in the aftermath of the referendum, and the ways social, economic, and regional differences among UKIP supporters affect their relationship with the party. She’s also interested in how English people outside UKIP perceive the party’s supporters.

Jeanne is now wrapping up ethnographic fieldwork among supporters of the UKIP in South Yorkshire, after which she’ll return to the United States for a brief visit. She’ll then continue her work in Greater London. Over email, Jeanne shared more about her background, her research in the UK, and how her research connects to her understanding of the current political landscape in the United States.


Ballot Table

The “Leave” and “Remain” signs used at the count on the night of the EU referendum to sort the votes. All British votes are still done by paper ballot and sorted and counted by hand.

Jeanne’s path to AU and the UK

Jeanne’s interest in politics has long since led her to pursue meaningful, on-the-ground work. When she was an undergraduate at the University of Memphis, she conducted research with a political action nonprofit in her home state of Tennessee. Her senior thesis, “Identity and activism among Muslims in Tennessee,” called for original ethnographic research on social and political movements among Middle Tennessee’s Muslim communities.

Jeanne came to AU to explore her questions about what draws people to political groups and political causes, as well as how political social movements impact people’s lives.

“Anthropological studies of the so-called ‘right wing’ are relatively rare, and arguably increasing in importance and popularity, not just in the US and UK, but around the world,” Jeanne said. “I decided this was broadly where I wanted to focus my research.”

When she first conceived of the idea of writing her dissertation on a “right-wing” group, she felt somewhat hesitant. “It’s still not a common area of research for anthropologists, though I’m glad to say that’s changing,” she said. “But when I nervously floated the idea to my advisor, David Vine, he was immediately and unconditionally supportive.”

David was willing to learn alongside Jeanne as she developed her initial research plan. “David, along with other faculty members in the department, has an excellent history of pursing and encouraging research that pushes the boundaries of what is typical anthropology. And while our department is committed to social justice, I’ve always appreciated that the people around me understand there are multiple and different avenues to pursuing that aim,” Jeanne said.

Jeanne brought her interests into the classroom, through conversations about theory and through her projects, and insights from peers and teachers helped shape her thinking. Seeking to hone in on a more specific subject, Jeanne first spent 12 weeks in England, hanging out with people involved in a range of political groups.

“The UK Independence Party, which has enjoyed increasing electoral and popular support in the last couple of years, stood out as a group that drew a dedicated and committed following of people from a range of different political backgrounds,” Jeanne said. “I decided to focus the rest of my research on them, and it’s been a fascinating experience so far.”



After spending all night at the referendum count in Sheffield, Jeanne snapped this picture of the dawn on what many people she’s gotten to know consider a “new Britain.”

Jeanne’s day-to-day field research in the UK

Each day of field work takes Jeanne somewhere different. She attends twice-weekly meetings of local UKIP branches. She attends local town and city council meetings. She attends committee meetings within local councils.

“I’ve been very lucky to be welcomed at several parties and social gatherings organized by local or regional UKIP groups. I also went to events related to the recent election of UKIP’s new national leader,” she said.

At least half her working time is composed of writing notes on her observations and experiences – and last summer gave her a lot to write about.

“By far, the highlight of my research has been the EU referendum campaign,” Jeanne said. “The growing support for UKIP was a major influence in making the referendum a reality, and the people I’ve been getting to know here were actively involved in campaigning to leave the EU. I was able to shadow several campaign events and attend the vote count in Sheffield. It was fascinating and exhilarating to watch history in action that evening.”


Billboard truck

A billboard truck, advocating a Leave vote in the referendum, hired by one of the local UKIP groups to drive around town in the days just before the referendum

Political connections across the pond

“With the Trump v. Clinton US election coming right on the heels of the Brexit summer here in the UK, it’s hard not to make comparisons across the current political moment in which we’re all living,” Jeanne said.

While her own interests focus on the views, perspectives, and experiences of the people she is getting to know in the UK, the US election looms large even in England, garnering news coverage and prompting people to ask Jeanne her thoughts about the choice US voters face this November.

“I’m very mindful of the global social and political contexts in which my research participants live, and in which my research is developing,” Jeanne said. “The political movements that have amassed behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are a part of that context. There is a great deal of concern about the rise in support for ‘right-wing’ or ‘far right’ movements in the US, Europe, and beyond,” Jeanne said.

Through her research, Jeanne works to push past than those labels, digging deeper to develop an understanding of which issues matter most to people and why. “I don’t doubt that there are connections between various political movements across national borders, but I’m hoping to challenge some of the assumptions about what those connections look like and what views and feelings motivate the people involved,” she said.

She plans to reconnect with AU classmates and teachers in person this winter before continuing the next leg of her research. “I try to keep people updated on how my research is going through semi-regular emails, but I’m looking forward to catching up with these same colleagues and continuing to learn from them during my mid-year break,” Jeanne said.

The MAPA program and Ph.D. in anthropology give students space to explore their interests about the world. Find out more about the master’s degree in public anthropology.


The Art of Social Justice

The weekly Social Justice Colloquium continues to offer the opportunity for insightful dialogue on Monday afternoons in the Battelle Thompkins humanities lab. This week attendees were able to experience firsthand the potential for artistic expression to grapple with issues of social justice. The three presenters this week, Caleen Jennings, Sybil Roberts, and Cara Gabriel, each showcased brief excerpts from their dramatic or spoken works, before explaining the context in which the pieces were created.

Sybil opened by reciting an excerpt from her piece titled, “I am a Drum”. This emotional piece is based upon historical events and follows the experience of Naphtali, a young pregnant woman who was violently abused by police officers before being taken into custody. Naphtali was participating in a peaceful demonstration, and through the dramatic voice of Sybil her unjust treatment at the hands of officers of the law could be felt secondhand by those in attendance.

Cara Gabriel also delivered an excerpt from her own original work, this time a part of her play “I am the Gentry”, which chronicles her own lived experiences in a particular neighborhood. Alternating between humor and sober reflection, this excerpt gave an alternative perspective to the issues of urban development, and through analogy compared the treatment of the neighborhood to that of an abandoned dog, who’s past is disregarded and is instead dealt with only in the present.

Finally, Caleen Jennings gave a powerful performance, drawing on an excerpt from her piece “Prevention”. She began by describing a child who has been neglected, but as the child grows up it becomes apparent that he is, in fact, a perpetrator of gun violence. As this fact is revealed to the audience, Cara Gabriel and Sybil Roberts distribute pictures of those convicted of armed violence in this country with a plain script that read “number of victims.” The end of Dr. Jennings’ performance was delivered amongst a flurry of small photographs which were scattered about the room, each one a picture of actual victims of gun violence.

The power of what these three women delivered this week lies not only in their considerable talent as artists; but also in their dedication to furthering social justice. Each piece was meant to elicit an emotional response, something that is often impossible through ethnographic or other academic writing. For an example of their work, you can watch this video of Caleen Jennings delivering a performance on American University’s campus.


Interested in learning more about social justice and public anthropology? We’d love to see you at our next event. For a list of future speakers please see the Social Justice Series. If you’d like to learn more about our program, please check out the Public Anthropology page.


In Case You Missed It: The Social Justice Series

This year’s Social Justice Series is in full swing at American University. It kicked off on September 19th with Professor Cathy Schneider. The series highlights the work of anthropologists who are committed to issues of social justice. Many of the speakers are from our own AU community or nearby schools. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about current research projects and see what public anthropology looks like in action. If you haven’t been able to join us yet this semester check out the summaries below for all the speakers you’ve missed.


Cathy Schneider, Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University, kicked off the Social Justice Colloquium series with her talk Perceived Powerlessness and Riots. Professor Schneider began researching racialized policing and riots several years ago after police violence in France caused riots while she was living in the country. Since then she has travelled to Ferguson, Baltimore, and NYC to interview family members of people murdered by the police and activists organizing in their communities. With this topic now at the forefront our country’s social justice agenda, Schneider is attempting to shed light on some of the mystery surrounding community riots by examining community relations with police forces, relevant legislation and community activism,  and the occurrence of riots in some cities but not all. Professor Schneider recently published a book on the topic entitled Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York.

Tracy Howard, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Howard University, joined us for the second SJC to speak about the origins of the environmental justice movement. Dr. Howard challenged current understandings of the movement including the common and powerful narrative that the movement began with a protest in Warren County, NC. While Howard acknowledges the significance of this moment as an important union between the civil rights and environmental justice movements she suggests that the beginnings of the origins are actually far more complex. She points to separate activist movements, the majority of which took place in California without knowledge of Warren County, as evidence of this complexity. In reality, she argued, the environmental justice movement started as a grassroots, multi-racial coalition that was willing to commit mass civil disobedience in effort to meet the needs of their communities.

An integral part of the American University Anthropology department, Dr. Dolores Koenig presented at our third SJC event. Dr. Koenig has pursued social justice as a professor at the school since 1980. Her writing and research have recently focused on involuntary resettlement due to infrastructure development, and at the October 3rd colloquium she shared some of her research concerning displacement due to the Manantali Dam on the Bafing River in Western Mali. Her presentation highlighted many of the ways resettlement on this project sought to serve the interests of those forced to leave their homes, while also recognizing the inadequacy of the land provided to effectively sustain the population for more than a few years. She spoke to the ways in which recognizing the needs, as well as the perceptions of populations facing forced resettlement is necessary in the pursuit of social justice.


If you’d like to know more about our upcoming speakers you can check out the list here. The Social Justice Series takes place every Monday at 4pm in Battelle 228. Coffee and light refreshments are always served. In consideration of the environment, please bring your mug. We look forward to seeing you there!


PAC: National Nurses United Panel

This weekend was an exciting time for the Anthropology department at AU. We hosted our 13th annual Public Anthropology Conference. Speakers represented a multitude of schools and organizations. One particularly exciting session highlighted a new partnership between the American University Department of Anthropology and National Nurses United.

National Nurses United is the largest union of registered nurses in the history of the United States. This fall, NNU and the Anthropology Department unrolled a new certificate program in Health Inequity and Care (HIC). Three of NNU’s educators, Heidi Hoechst, Alana Glaser, and Chris Nielsen joined AU Professor Adrienne Pine to talk about this new opportunity.

The panel focused on the potential of the new partnership between NNU and AU as well as the dynamic online learning format for all of the HIC courses. It gave students a chance to ask questions and learn more about NNU and the certificate program. The certificate includes six different courses, each exploring the relationship between health care and political and economic structures. Courses such as Militarization and Health and Neoliberal Globalization and Health take a critical look at our healthcare system, offering students the chance to learn how to examine it as part of a “larger structural machine.”

The panelists discussed the format as one of the most exciting parts of the new program. All of the courses are offered online. This enables registered nurses from around the country to be enrolled along with undergraduate and graduate students from AU. Registered nurses have the opportunity to critically examine the structures they are working in and traditional students have the unique chance to learn about healthcare from those at the frontlines. The NNU educators hope that this will offer the space for “asking critical questions” and facilitate a constructive dialogue about what it means to be effective social advocates.

This year’s PAC was hoping to create a conversation between academia and social activism. The NNU panel exemplified what this conversation can look like moving forward. NNU and the anthropology department at AU are both committed to issues of social justice. The nurses working with NNU often witness these issues firsthand. They are activists who understand that well-being encompasses far more than what happens in clinical settings. The Health Inequity and Care Certificate is a chance for social activism to meet academia in a space committed to taking a critical look at health.

Learn more about the Health Inequity and Care Certificate or email any questions to


PAC: Bridging the Gap between Academia and Activism

This year’s Public Anthropology Conference (PAC) had no shortage of amazing speakers discussing a broad range of interesting and important topics. From drone usage to minority solidarity, the various workshops and panel discussions allowed conference participants to get a glimpse of the many different arenas of public thought and activism in which the discipline of Anthropology has taken a part. However, the conference did not focus solely on the state of the discipline, instead opting to pursue the theme of “Creating Dialogues Between Social Movements and Academia”.

Nowhere was this more apparent than within the keynote dialogue, which took place on Saturday, October 8th. To reflect the general theme of the conference, the traditional keynote address was replaced with a panel style discussion, in which the three participants were asked to discuss the various ways in which activists and academics can impact one another’s work. This format allowed for multiple perspectives in the discussion, rather than become entirely focused on the important but limited perspective of a single speaker.

Dr. Marcia Chatelain, representing Georgetown University, provided valuable insight on the integration of Anthropological models of thought into her work within the Black Lives Matter movement. Her experience, both as an academic and within a particular social movement, allowed her to speak to the ways in which these parts of her professional life are able to work in tandem.

The same can be said of both Chelsea Parsons and Elizabeth Banach, both of whom are important figures within the movement to end gun violence. Elizabeth Banach works with the organization Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, and gave voice to the specific goals of the movement. Following a description of how personal events shaped her relationship to the movement, Ms. Banach suggested a number of ways in which Anthropologists within the Academy could both offer aid and reap benefits from a relationship with the movement.

Chelsea Parsons also spoke about the movement to end gun violence, but did so from within her own realm of experience. As the Vice President for Guns and Crime Policy within the Center for American Progress, Ms. Parsons was able to provide more general context for the movement. All three of the speakers were able to create a fruitful environment for dialogue, and were able to effectively address a number of questions brought forth by the audience.

The panel was moderated by by Dr. Angela Stuesse from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her moderation allowed the discussion to move between the specifics of the organizations represented by the speakers, all while encouraging dialogue between those within the academic discipline of Anthropology and those involved in the social movements represented throughout the conference.

This week will be all about highlighting some of the wonderful conversations that took place at the 13th Annual Public Anthropology Conference. Check back in tomorrow to learn more!

American University

Elijah Adiv Edelman: Joining us at the Social Justice Colloquium October 10

Dr. Elijah Adiv Edelman is a graduate of the AU PhD program in anthropology and now teaches at Rhode Island College. On Monday, October 10, he will join us at the Social Justice Colloquium to give the talk “Trans and Queer Anthropology: Activism, Academia and Community.”

In this discussion, Elijah will address how to do activist-engaged anthropological work. He will especially focus on how students and academics working in Trans and Queer-specific anthropological inquiry can partner with LGBT activists and communities of practice. He’ll introduce us to international and U.S. case studies that serve as examples of both best practices and inequities in conversations around LGBT civil rights.

The conversation will be active, with participant invited to brainstorm ways of shifting or reformulating our own research practices, and we thought it might be helpful to introduce you to Elijah before his talk. We reached out to him over email to learn more about his research, his time at AU, and what he’s up to now.


The evolution of Elijah’s research interests

There has always been a close relationship between Elijah’s activist interests and his work as an anthropologist. “My graduate school research interests really emerged out of my activist interests, which, in turn, further informed both my graduate and post-graduate work,” Elijah said.

During Elijah’s time in DC, most of his work focused on issues facing trans communities in the metro area. “By virtue of the communities I worked with, this led to my work taking a turn towards looking at how the loss of life—in this context trans women of color—may be seen as not terribly important due to institutionalized anti-blackness, transphobia and the hypercriminalization of trans women’s bodies,” he said.

Now, in Providence, Elijah’s work focuses more on public health and the accessibility of harm reduction materials to sex workers, as well as on general public access to HIV/STI testing.

“I teach courses on sex and sexuality (as well as queer and trans anthropology!). It was only through the continued support of my AU advisor, Bill Leap, that I felt encouraged to work on and towards issues that, at the time, were not terribly hot topics in anthropology,” Elijah said.


What does activist-engaged anthropological work look like?

Elijah’s work pursues questions about how community-based concerns and activism can be addressed in academic-based projects.

“I think one of the biggest challenges to activist engaged anthropology, or any kind of social science research, is that the process itself can take real time,” Elijah said.

A researcher can write a survey and get it out within months. But if the researcher wants that same survey to include questions generated by community members and framed in ways that support community needs, and then to test the questions in the community, the timeline increases to upwards of a year.

“While this means that getting the ‘data’ can take time, that entire process is a key element of cultivating truly meaningful relationships between the ‘researcher’ and the ‘researched,’” Elijah said.

A profound example of this came out of a series of roundtables Elijah and trans community researchers conducted with DC trans community members between 2010 and 2011, reaching a total of 109 trans community members.

This was followed up with a large, community-produced 81-question needs assessment survey, with community-led data collection running between 2012 through 2013. Upon closing in May 2013, 624 surveys were completed with a total of 521 surveys qualifying for inclusion in the data analysis. To date, this is the largest city-based, trans-specific needs assessment survey in U.S. history. The final report outlining these findings, ‘Access Denied,’ was released in November 2014, and is available for free download here.

“We (the researchers) learned that many young trans feminine folks of color would often find community in spaces that police identified as areas of ‘prostitution’. This resulted in many, many young trans women of color being wrongly charged with solicitation, being forced to move into areas with less traffic and less safety and, in some cases, it resulted in their murder,” Elijah explained.

“In short, while the police (and perhaps the broader ‘lgb’ community) might have seen groups of young trans women of color in sex worker spaces as evidence of sex work, this community-informed research allowed for those with institutional privilege to go to local community organizations, and even to city council, and make it clear that not all ‘LGBT’ organizations are inclusive of trans folks and not all trans folks will go to the same places to find community.”

The work had a concrete impact on legislation. The legislation that allowed for pre-emptive arrests of people who merely appeared to be engaging in sex work because of their presence in “prostitution free zones” was declared legally questionable and is no longer carried out in DC.

“This was a profound win on many levels and a fantastic reminder of the importance of community-based research,” Elijah said.


Snagging a tenure-track position after the Ph.D.

After his time at AU, Elijah managed to find something a lot of anthropology PhD students seek: a tenure-track teaching position at a school he loves.

“I found my current faculty position at RIC through the nightmare process that is the academic job market! I was very, very fortunate to have been offered a tenure-track position at an institution like RIC,” Elijah said.

Rhode Island College is the only public college in the state (though there is also a community college and a university). RIC students are majority first-generation college students, and many work full-time jobs in addition to going to school.

“The students are in the classroom because they want to be there and I think this really translates into a level of investment that isn’t terribly common in many spaces in higher education,” Elijah said. “We cap our classes around 20-30 students and tuition works out to be around seven thousand dollars a year for a full course load. Our faculty, adjuncts and staff are all unionized and are paid truly living wages. I am beyond grateful that I landed where I did!”

He advises students who share his interests in gender, sex, and sexuality to pursue experiences outside the academy in addition to their studies. “I think these issues are really extremely ‘hot’ topics not just in higher education but also in NGO work, public health work, and community justice work. Having experience in those areas is definitely a good thing,” he said.


Our students’ experiences in the MAPA program lead them to real-world accomplishments and launch their careers. Find out more about the master’s degree in public anthropology.


Public Anthropology Conference: 2016

Announcing the 2016 Public Anthropology Conference

American University’s Department of Anthropology registration is currently open for the 13th annual Public Anthropology Conference.  This year’s conference will take place on October 8-9, and welcomes participation from anthropologists and activists from a broad range of disciplines to engage in emerging dialogues on current issues.

This year’s topic is Creating Dialogues between Social Movements & Academia.   

The conference will explore opportunities for collaboration between academia and social movements of all kinds to advance movements and related forms of advocacy and activism. Participants and audience members will be encouraged to engage in dialogues and share insights about the concrete ways in which activists and academics can strengthen collaborative efforts to combat social inequalities and injustice, discrimination and oppression, and violations of basic human rights.  Taking place just weeks before the U.S. presidential election amid a dramatic rise in social movement activism in recent years, the conference will provide a space to self-critically reflect on the contributions of and relationship between academia and movements. 

We welcome everyone to come and take part in this amazing event. Bring your questions or a desire to learn more about Anthropology or contemporary social movements. Breakfast and Lunch will be served as well, and although the event is free we ask that all attendees please register here as soon as possible.   




October 8-9, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Events will take place at the Mary Graydon Center, McKinley Building, and School of International Service (SIS) Building.

Getting There:

DC Metro & AU Shuttle
AU is accessible via the Tenleytown stop on the Red Line (toward upper left on metro map)—just outside the metro east entrance there is an American University shuttle bus stop. The AU Shuttle Blue/Main Campus Route runs every 10-15 minutes: see live bus-location app—ask the driver for main campus stop nearest MGC (immediately past Ward Circle). See also AU Maps/Directions.

Parking is free on weekends and after 5 p.m. Parking is available under the Katzen Arts Center on Massachusetts Avenue and in parking deck attached to Mary Graydon Center.

If you have any questions, please email:

Kelci Reiss with Esperanza Project

Developing the Student Research Project: A Spotlight on Kelci Reiss

Some students arrive at AU already set on the research they want to pursue.

Others, like third-year student Kelci Reiss, make new discoveries throughout their time in the program that shape their focus and drive their Student Research Project (SRP).

While Kelci knew all along that her SRP would draw on her interest in social justice on behalf of immigrant communities, she wasn’t sure which project would suit the needs of her current life situation. She had been dealing with some health issues and commuting to DC from Baltimore for classes, and the trip was starting to feel strenuous.

Kelci found the perfect solution through her MAPA network. Her colleague David Riesche (whose work we featured last December) connected Kelci with his mother, a pro bono lawyer who works with Baltimore’s Esperanza Center. The match was perfect. The Esperanza Center is a nonprofit that supports immigrants – especially from Central America – with services such as ESL education, healthcare, and low-cost legal services, and Kelci found that her backgrounds and skills overlapped with the needs of the Center.

“This is a new and exciting thing for me, because I’m about to work on something I completely didn’t expect to be doing,” Kelci said.

How the unexpected can shape students’ research

Even after connecting with the Esperanza Center, Kelci’s plans continued to evolve. She had originally intended to focus on the Esperanza Center’s health clinic, which is designed to serve people who are deemed uninsurable by the state – primarily undocumented immigrants.

“I was very interested in chronic illness because I myself deal with chronic illness, and it’s really hard navigating the health system and insurance even as someone who is documented,” she said. “I was very interested in developing more understanding and improving programs to help those who are considered uninsurable, who may not have regular healthcare access and benefits.”

Kelci Reiss with Esperanza Project children.However, as Kelci began to set up her work with the clinic, she began volunteering with the youth ESL program, which took her work in a new direction. “I fell in love with the kids I was working with!” she said. “They’re between ages of thirteen and eighteen, and I decided to develop my SRP research with them. They are so smart and so inspiring, and I am just really looking forward to getting to work with them.”

Kelci hopes to use her time, in part, to provide insight into how the ESL program can improve. In particular, she wants to learn more about how students’ lives outside the classroom impact their progress at school.

“I’ve already seen quite a few ways that outside situations – family life and everyday outside aspects – have affected their learning in the center,” she said. “We can alter the programs to better meet their needs and to specifically address some of these issues. This touches on legal status, so I need to be very careful because of the vulnerabilities of the students’ status and age.”

Drawing on MAPA coursework in the SRP

A secondary element of Kelci’s project will draw from her training and experience in documentary work. Earlier this year, Kelci contributed to the production of a documentary for the School of the Americas Watch promoting Spring Days of Action, a week-long program including protests, public activities, and public education events about U.S. military involvement in Latin America. Now, she plans to apply those skills to create a documentary the Esperanza Center can use as an educational tool in their community.

While the Center is enthusiastic about her idea, she knows she may face challenges in the production. “There are ethical concerns, so I’ll be constantly double-checking what I’m doing so as not to expose anything that could make problems for the kids,” she said.

Kelci credits a joint course between the AU anthropology and communications departments with giving her the skill she needs to carry out effective documentary work. “As anthropologists, we understand story and story composition well, but understanding how to put the visuals to together and create something visually and auditorily compelling is something very different,” she said.

While she now has the know-how she needs to move forward, she also knows she can reach out to her professors for help with layout and composition.

“I have a really great support system within my department as well as in the communications department, which is very supportive of anthropology films. They understand that film is a tool for social justice,” Kelci said. “We have a really wonderful partnership between the two departments.”

Kelci has been given particular guidance by Adrienne Pine and Nina Shapiro-Perl. “They have shaped how I look at everything now and I wouldn’t have made it this far without their knowledge and shared experiences,” she said.

Where will the project go from here?

We’ll all just have to stay tuned for the final outcome! Like most projects, Kelci’s SRP will continue to sharpen and change form as she learns from the communities with which she’ll work.

Her experiences exemplify how the MAPA program accommodates students’ changing needs and allows students’ interests to develop, leading to unexpected places.

5 Anthropology Conferences to Attend This School Year

5 Anthropology Conferences to Attend This School Year


When anthropologists come together, the most important conversations of our day evolve, deepen, and expand. We’re proud of the rich exchange of ideas that happens in our own anthropology department, and we encourage students to engage with scholars from outside AU by attending conferences both on and off our campus.

Below are five conferences we have our eye on for the upcoming school year, and you can find more by exploring the calendar at at the American Anthropology Association.


Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, D.C. Symposium

September 17, 2016

U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center, Washington, D.C.

The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, D.C. is dedicated to furthering understanding of the peoples of the Americas before the time of Columbus. This fall, their one-day symposium will explore “Divine Kinship: The Political Ideology of Pre-Columbian Rulers,” probing historical connections between the sacred and the political.


The Public Anthropology Conference 2016

October 8-9, 2016

Mary Graydon Center, AU, Washington, D.C.

AU’s own Public Anthropology Conference is in its 16th year, and this year’s theme is “Social Movements & Academia.” Together, we will explore concrete ways to strengthen collaborative efforts between activists and academics, with the goal of combatting social inequalities and injustices. The conference will highlight panels, papers, workshops, dialogues, posters, film, audio/visual displays, and performances.


Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting

March 28–April 1, 2017

La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Society for Applied Anthropology is an association of professionals interested in making an impact on the quality of life in today’s world. Its members come from social and behavioral disciplines including anthropology, economics, sociology, planning, medicine, nursing, and law. The theme of the 77th annual meeting is “Trails, Traditions, and New Directions,” and papers are welcomes until October 15th.


Lavender Language & Linguistics Conference XXIV

April 28-30, 2017

University of Nottingham, UK

American University’s own Lavender Language & Linguistics Conference is hitting the UK in its 24th year. The call for papers is live until October 3rd, and the organizers have already received submissions from France, Brazil, Australia and the U.S. Conference topics will include language, sexuality and pedagogy, LGBTQ+ discourse and media representations, (Anti)homophobic and transphobic discourses, and much more.


Robyn Rafferty Mathias Student Research Conference

Spring 2017 (Check back for dates and details)

Katzen Arts Center, AU, Washington, D.C.

Each year, the AU College of Arts and Sciences invites undergraduate and graduate students to present original scholarly and creative work before faculty and colleagues. Now in its 27th year, the conference is funded in part by a generous grant from AU trustee and alumna Robyn Rafferty Mathias, and students from all disciplines are encouraged to enter and attend. Cash prizes will be awarded for outstanding presentations, and a professional presentation prize will be offered to graduate students to cover the cost of attendance at a professional, peer-reviewed national conference at which the student is presenting.


Our program invites students to join the most important conversations in the world of anthropology. Find out more about the master’s degree in public anthropology.

DC Collections

9 Washington DC Anthropology Organizations You Should Know About

Studying in our nation’s capital puts AU public anthropology students within reach of a number of dynamic, active organizations.

There are opportunities to connect with National Parks, to delve into the history of local schools, and to explore pre-Columbian civilizations. There are grants and fellowships to fund promising field research. There are countless smart, experienced professionals eager to share their knowledge with new anthropologists.

Check out these 9 organizations for a sample of what is at our students’ fingertips:

1. Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists

Our town is home to Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA), the world’s largest regional association of anthropologists. WAPA is a great resource, offering opportunities for networking and learning. They host events, mail out jobs listings, and provide mentorships for their members.

2. The Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology

Beyond the wealth of dinosaur bones and studies on animal evolution, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History boasts an active Department of Anthropology. Their collections and archives, online databases and research programs serve as resources for our students’ work—and some of our students find internships and jobs with the Smithsonian.

3. The National Park Service’s Cultural Anthropology Program

The National Park Service has an amazing Cultural Anthropology Program that works to deepen the connections between cultural communities and the places that are central to their history and culture. They team up with a network of anthropologists across the country and with partner organizations. Their program office is based in D.C.

4. The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, DC

The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, D.C. (PCSWDC) is a community of people interested in the civilizations that populated the Americas before the time of Columbus. They host an annual symposium and a number of talks, discussions, and museum visits around D.C. and they also deliver a newsletter to interested parties outside the area.

5. Charles Sumner School Museum

The Charles Sumner School was among the first public school buildings opened for D.C.’s black community. The building now holds a museum housing public school archives and records and offers meeting spaces for events and gatherings.

6. The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum

Opened in 1967 as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum has a strong history in the African American museum movement. It continues to offer documentation, exhibits, and programming concerned with D.C. communities – and it hosts interns and fellows.

7. The Explorer’s Club

The Explorer’s Club is an international professional organization based in New York, with a focus on supporting multidisciplinary field research. The Explorers’ Club Washington Group is the organization’s largest local chapter and hosts talks and events, such as a recent talk by underwater anthropologist Robert Neyland. They also offer Exploration and Field Research Grants to local graduate students.

8. The Cosmos Club Foundation

The Cosmos Club is a privates social club for individuals who have distinguished themselves in the science, literature, and the arts and humanities. Their foundation offers small, highly competitive research grants for D.C. graduate students whose work promises to increase public knowledge. The Club invites the winners to present their research, and hopes that many recipients will go on to become members of the Club themselves.

9. The Institute for Policy Studies

The Institute for Policy Studies is the nation’s oldest progressive, multi-issue think tank. The organization brings together public scholars and organizers to carry out work focused on social justice issues. They offer fellowships, jobs and internships, in addition to putting on events.


Our program invites students to blend real-world experiences with their coursework. Find out more about the master’s degree in public anthropology.

National Nurses United

AU Partners with National Nurses United for New Online Certificate Program

We are thrilled to announce a brand new anthropology certificate program in partnership with National Nurses United (NNU). Starting in fall 2016, students in the MA in Public Anthropology (MAPA) program will have the chance to pursue an online certificate in Health Inequality and Care.

I’m especially excited about this because of my background working with National Nurses United. After receiving my doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, my first job was as lead educator at NNU, teaching continuing education courses in medical anthropology to registered nurses throughout California and around the country. I spent three years in that position, during which I learned about how nurses struggle to protect patients in the face of great obstacles—two big obstacles in particular: the profit motive in medicine and the (related) influence of the pharmaceutical, hospital, and medical technology lobbies in US and international politics.

Our Partnership with National Nurses United

National Nurses United is the largest nurses’ union in the country with 190,000 members. The organization has a deep commitment to education—in particular, education on topics that nurses hold near and dear: healthcare and social justice.

NNU chose to partner with AU for multiple reasons: because of our university’s location in the nation’s capital, where so much of healthcare policy is determined; because of the numerous exciting health-centered programs that already exist throughout the university; and, in particular because of the AU Anthropology Department’s commitment to social justice-oriented anthropology.

We are excited that NNU has chosen to partner with American University. The programs are funded not through corporate profits but rather by nurses who are collectively committed to making the ideal of healthcare as a human right become a reality. The Health Inequity and Care Certificate Program is an example of our department’s commitment to a public anthropology that combines cutting edge scholarship and teaching with solidarity.

Registered nurses will take the courses along with MAPA students, giving our students the benefit of having classmates from all over the country and the world. This diversity will bring a wealth of experience to the classroom that in-person courses rarely provide—enriching everyone’s educational experience.

Focus and Outcomes of the Certificate

This certificate is for students seeking theoretical and practical training to help them understand and challenge the roots of healthcare inequality and injustice. Rooted in social justice and structural analysis, the program is theoretically grounded in critical medical anthropology, but interdisciplinary in nature. Courses draw upon subject areas such as geography, history, nursing, philosophy, political economy, public health, and sociology.

The Health Inequity and Care Graduate Certificate Program provides students with new and critical approaches to cultural competency training, deepening comprehension of the structural determinants of health as well as the relationship between health inequities and technological restructuring, understood as replacing worker skills or judgment with automated equipment and computer software. The program goes beyond individual or cultural explanations of health, well-being, inequality, and justice to challenge the boundaries between healthcare, economic rights, and social justice advocacy. By tackling the underlying factors of health disparities, the Health Inequity and Care Certificate Program provides students the intellectual tools to study, evaluate, and fight against the structural causes of injustice in health and healthcare.

The course offerings will be of particular interest to students interested in critical medical anthropology, healthcare, technology, militarization, neoliberalism, social movements, geography, labor, and inequality.

A Flexible Online Course Schedule

The program is offered online in order to accommodate the busy, unpredictable schedules of registered nurses, who will enroll in the classes alongside AU students. MAPA students may take the entire certificate, or just courses of particular interest to them.

Course assignments have fixed deadlines that students can plan ahead for, but there are no requirements to “attend” class at a specific time. Online university coursework in the Health Inequity and Care program offers numerous advantages for MAPA students, who, like nurses, have unpredictable and busy schedules.

What are the requirements?

15 credit hours of approved coursework, with grades C or higher. Students must have at least a 3.0 GPA in certificate courses to be awarded a certificate.

Choose five of the six classes below:

  • ANTH 421/621: Health Geographies
  • ANTH 422/622: Neoliberal Globalization and Health
  • ANTH 423/623: Militarization and Health
  • ANTH 424/624: Science, Technology and Human Health
  • ANTH 425/625: Health, Care, and Social Movements
  • ANTH- 491/691 Health Advocacy Internship


More information about the Health Inequity & Care Certificate Program can be found on the program website. For questions about the program, please contact:

About the Author

Adrienne PineAdrienne Pine is the program director for the Master of Arts in Public Anthropology. A militant medical anthropologist who has worked in Honduras, Mexico, Korea, the United States, Egypt, and Cuba, Dr. Pine has worked both outside and inside the academy to effect a more just world.








Learn more about our Master of Arts in Public Anthropology program.

Homo naledi fossils

Watch: Becca Peixotto on the Homo Naledi Excavation

In 2013, two cavers came across human remains in the Rising Star Cave system near Johannesburg, South Africa, and American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger was eager to get a look at them. The only problem? The remains could only be accessed through a 7-inch- wide passageway, and Berger was too large to fit.

He put out a call for cavers with experience in paleontology or archaeology—and with very small stature. Becca Peixotto answered the call.

A current AU anthropology PhD student and graduate of the public anthropology master’s program, Becca was excited to join the expedition.

Working on an all woman-team of six scientist climbers, Becca helped excavate the largest collection of hominin remains ever found in Africa and contributed to the discovery of a new early human relative species: Homo naledi.

Listen as she shares a bit about her experience on the Rising Star Expedition.

Find out more about the Master’s Degree in Public Anthropology.

AU anthropology students march in DC.

A Look Inside the Master’s in Public Anthropology

At its core, anthropology is about people. The master’s in public anthropology helps students discover ways to inspire change on the issues they care most about – and fight for justice on behalf of local and global communities.

Our program is distinguished in part by its location. DC offers a wealth of access points for students to develop their understanding of global and domestic challenges and power structures, and our students balance coursework with opportunities to immerse themselves in the DC metro area.

In this video, you’ll hear from associate professor Adrienne Pine and master’s in public anthropology graduate Becca Peixotto about how the program opens opportunities for discovery.


If you want to discover ways to push for change and justice, learn more about the master’s in public anthropology.


Green Spaces: Bringing the Classroom to the Campus Grounds

Anthro BlogStephanie DeStefano has a more intimate relationship with the AU campus than most students. This year, she not only graduates from the master’s in public anthropology program, but she also celebrated her 14th anniversary as Grounds Operations Coordinator at AU.

We talked with Stephanie to learn about her job at AU and how it has complemented her work as a public anthropology graduate student. When we reached her, she was sitting outside, in her favorite spot on campus.

“You might hear birds chirping in the background,” she said. “We have an amphitheater area, and it’s totally enclosed by trees, and a stream is running through here. There are tons of birds in the area, and you can’t see any roads or cars. On an urban campus, I just think it’s really nice to be sitting outside and not hearing the traffic and the typical noise you hear in the city, but hearing birds chirping instead,” she said.

Stephanie takes great pride in the university grounds and respects the way the administration has valued its care. She said, “We put a high priority on the landscape and maintaining it in a sustainable manner. We are very concerned about adding a lot of diversity to the urban landscape, and the campus has won many awards for the grounds.”


Stephanie’s Road to AU

Stephanie has a degree in horticulture from the University of Maryland and is a certified arborist. Busy with her career and raising three children, Stephanie worked at AU for years before deciding she was ready to take advantage of her access to free classes and pursue her master’s degree.

“It’s been a long process,” she said. “I picked anthropology because of the experience I’d had as undergraduate and because it combines my interests in humans and culture and plants and nature.”

Because the anthropology program allows students to pursue their own particular interests, Stephanie was able to make her coursework meaningful to her. “In every class I’ve taken, I’ve been able to combine and relate my interests in some way,” she said.


Bringing Together Career & Studies

The Substantial Research Paper that Stephanie completed for her degree involved an investigation of how AU faculty across disciplines utilize the American University arboretums and gardens as a teaching resource. She started the paper last fall, and was in the final stages of finishing it when we spoke. She has interviewed 28 faculty members.

“It’s been fascinating,” she said. “I’ve interviewed faculty that teach art, for example, and they take their classes outside and have them do projects where they draw something and then put the drawing away. They take it out two weeks later, and everything is different. The lighting is different, the plants around it are different, any nature around it will be different. So they’re trying to show that art captures a moment, and in nature, that moment is not repeatable.”

She also accompanied a journalism professor when he took students to the place where President Kennedy gave a well-known 1963 commencement speech on nuclear arms. While he taught students about the political significance of the location, he asked Stephanie to share her knowledge about the physical landscape.

“So the teachers aren’t using it necessarily for teaching about plants, but exposing students to history, and to what is special about the place, and getting a little bit of environmental knowledge in there as well,” she said.

“I interviewed one faculty member from the School of Education, and she teaches innovative ways to teach math classes. And she’s a nature lover. So she takes her students outside and they look at flowers and pinecones and things like that, and they talk about Fibonacci numbers and number sequences that are found in nature. If I’d had a professor who had taught math like that in my undergrad, I probably would have thought about math in a different way. Math has never been my favorite subject, but hearing about that made it real to me.”


Where Does Her Work Go From Here?

Stephanie plans to leverage the feedback she has received from faculty to further disseminate information and inspiration. “During my interviews, I asked the question: what can we do better to let faculty know that this resource is available and give them ideas?” she said. Possibilities include putting the information on campus TV screens, or making booklets or pamphlets that teachers can pick up.

Stephanie has already made progress toward supporting teachers in utilizing campus resources. She organized a panel at the Ann Ferren Conference in January, in which faculty members spoke about their work with the grounds. Since then, faculty contact her every week, asking for her input or support in using the campus in their teaching.

A marketing teacher has given his students the option of drawing up a marketing plan for the arboretum as their final project. “They’re going to turn it over to us. The university will look at it and take their good ideas, with the development office and the alumni affairs office getting the word out about what we are doing. I’m very excited to see what they come up with.”

The work she has done as a student has been rewarding and feeds her longer term hopes and goals for the AU campus—such as finding solutions to protect the Potomac River from campus storm water runoff, and working with a faculty member who runs a beekeeping society on campus, finding spaces that will work for the honeybees and ensuring that they won’t be harmed by pesticides.

“My goals for the future is that we continue to do this work. There is still a lot more to be done,” Stephanie said.


If you’re interested in a program that allows you to explore your specific interests and find real-world applications, check out our master of arts in public anthropology.


Social Justice in Action: AU Student Travels to Armenia with Peace Corps

By Robert Craycraft

In August 2015, I moved to the South Caucasus nation of Armenia to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. I had previously spent a full academic year in Washington, DC, at American University in the Anthropology Department working towards my master’s degree in public anthropology (MAPA).

During the fall semester, I began and later submitted my application to the Peace Corps, narrowing my field of interest to community/youth development. I wanted to gain more experience in non-governmental/non-profit organizations.

You’re probably wondering why spend the money on graduate school and a whole two years abroad. My best answer is that I knew I wanted to continue my education, but just not in a wholly traditional way. I also have a strong passion to travel…everywhere. So I began to look for ways to get a degree and travel at the same time. I quickly found the Master’s International Program from the Peace Corps and searched for anthropological or sociological graduate programs. The MAPA program at American University caught my eye. I got accepted, moved to DC, and started graduate school in August 2014.

Anthropology was and is a different field for me, as my bachelor’s degree is in sociology. It awakened an activism inside of me that I knew was there but couldn’t clearly express. Living in DC gave me an educational environment and urban/professional landscape that could facilitate that activism. I was introduced to the key founding and contemporary theories of anthropology through my classes. Additionally, I created an anthropological research project within the context of the classroom. This involved as much theory and literature research as it did paperwork for consent forms and travel expenses.

My first experience with a nonprofit was in the spring of 2015 with an organization called Public Citizen. I attended a few Congressional hearings—one on compensation for victims of asbestos poisoning who were employed by the government. I also became familiar with how the offices of Senators and Representatives function. It was all very humbling and insightful.

Now with that full academic year in the books and going on eight months in Armenia, I am starting to formulate ideas for my Substantial Research Project (SRP). This project has been open to interpretation for my cohort in our respective Peace Corps posts. Armenia is truly rich in its possibilities for anthropologists. Armenians have a unique history and identity, a transition between the political economies of communism and capitalism, and an overall dynamic of change that is happening as I serve.

I am living in a small town of 12,000 by Lake Sevan called Vardenis. I work in the local YMCA. I often explain it as not your typical YMCA by American standards. There’s no basketball court, swimming pool, or exercise room. The facility is primarily used as educational center during the school year. In the summer they have another building by the lake where the staff host summer camps for youth around Vardenis.

I am assisting one of the English teachers with her after-school class and once a week I visit the local college and run an English club there for older students. The ages of students at the YMCA range from five to thirteen. The college is the equivalent of the American high school system.

Outside of English clubs, I have begun work on applying for a grant to create a computer resource room for the YMCA. The idea is to have three to five computers connected to the internet and have various workshops for resume-building, email use, and Microsoft Office. Another possibility is to create a schedule for an internet café where community members can pay per hour to access the internet. This adds some much needed revenue to the YMCA budget and expands the resources that the YMCA can provide to Vardenis.

As my first year draws to completion and the second draws nearer, I am beginning to narrow my topics for the SRP. I am growing more interested in conducting interviews with Armenians—young and old—to record their perspectives and opinions on what it is to be Armenian while transitioning into a new economy. I was previously thinking of exploring the difference between what it means to be Posh Corps and Peace Corps. The difference primarily being a level of comfort that is not typical of Peace Corps volunteers. Those are my two competing topics for my SRP.

When I return to American University, I will complete one more semester and write up my project. I look forward to seeing old friends, making new friends, and reconnecting with the other three volunteers in my cohort. Hearing their stories and plans for their project is very exciting and keeps me upbeat when I’m missing home. I hope to honor the Armenian people and their culture with my project. As they have shown me the true meaning of hospitality and a full stomach. Armenia will have taught me how people can and should treat each other when they are strangers in a foreign country. You treat them like family.


About Rob

I am from Lexington, Kentucky. My first experience traveling outside the US was to Italy for one month in a study abroad program. I really miss my dog and cat and a soda from Kentucky called Ale81.


Are you passionate about social justice at home and abroad? Connect with other students like Rob in the master of arts in public anthropology program at AU.


Social Justice Colloquium Series Recap: Ori Burton on Fugitive Masculinity

Ori_and_President_of_BSAcWe were honored to partner with the Black Student Alliance to host a groundbreaking speaker at our weekly Social Justice Colloquium Series earlier this month. Orisanmi Burton joined us from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is a doctoral candidate in social anthropology, to give a presentation based on a chapter of his dissertation.

Burton’s dissertation, entitled Taller Than The Wall: Prison-based Organizing in the Empire State, has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and by multiple UNC-CH fellowships. It broadly explores forty years of activism, organizing, and intellectual production in New York state men’s prisons.

In his talk, Burton spoke with us about how gender—and specifically Black masculinity—mediates men’s experience of imprisonment and the strategies they use to resist dehumanization. Below is a quick recap of key takeaways and quotes from Burton’s presentation:

Burton discussed the 1971 prison rebellion in Attica, New York, pointing to the rebellion as an important challenge to patriarchal prison structures. He showed us an aerial map of Attica Correctional Facility, which is 340 miles west of New York City, and said:

“Notice that the prison is divided into four major cell blocks, and this is really important, because as Audre Lorde has said, divide and conquer is the first patriarchal lesson. So we can see the principle of patriarchy really clearly by looking at prison architecture and design. It separates captives from each other, but the prison also thrives on multiple levels of isolation and alienation. Captives are geographically isolated from their home communities and social networks, they are isolated from civil society, and the prolonged solitude of confinement leads many captives to express a strong sense of isolation and alienation from their own personalities and their own bodies. And this sort of experience is often likened to death. You’ll hear it called living death, social death—this is how people actually talk about it.”

A focus of Burton’s research has been to explore how groups of imprisoned men fight to preserve their humanity, dignity, and masculinity within and against the dehumanization of state captivity. Burton read from a letter from incarcerated man named Absolute who is a member of a collective. Burton said:

“This letter shows that Absolute and other members of activists know what’s going on. They know how the prison operates because they’ve studied it and formulated critiques of it. One of my key interventions in the dissertation is to argue that imprisoned activists are in fact the true ethnographers of the criminal justice continuum. The bars, fences, and walls that Absolute talks about keep imprisoned activists within tight material and geographic limits, but these groups also function against compliance. Compliance is a key term of state power in various institutional settings within and beyond the prison, but within the prison, it invokes specifically racialized and patriarchal dimensions of domination. The guards and the prison authorities have the sole authority to define compliance. They have the sole authority to interpret it and enforce it, and in practice it means, ‘Do what the man of the house says or else.’ Compliance becomes really important as a form of power after Attica. Because after Attica, prison authorities recognized that it wasn’t enough to control imprisoned bodies; they also had to control imprisoned minds.”

Burton discussed the concept of “fugitive masculinity,” a body of protofeminist thought and analysis being developed by incarcerated men.

“I am using the term fugitive masculinity to describe an emergent politics that improvises many of the the tactics and strategies associated with black feminist politics. It’s a protofeminist politics in which captive men seek to escape and abolish the logic of racist patriarchy as it is enacted in the prison. It is about constructing a manhood that does not rely on symbols of hegemonic masculinity. It is about building a masculine power that does not presuppose or reenact domination. When I’m talking about black feminist politics, I’m citing women such as Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Julia Oparah, Joy James, and many others. According to these theorists, some of the key aspects of black feminist theory include building unity across difference, using experience as a mode of analysis, enacting a politics of care, and preserving and transmitting knowledge.”


We invite you to join us for future sessions in the Social Justice Colloquium Series.


Recapping the Lavender Languages Conference

The 23rd Annual Lavender Languages Conference was held at American University on February 12-14, 2016. Directed by Professor William L. Leap, “Lav 23” offered a venue for discussion of language and sexuality, drawing on ongoing conversations in anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics, sexuality studies, and queer theory.

Professor William Leap

Professor William Leap

This year’s conference was all the more significant to Leap because it was the last to be held before he retires from AU. “I had a hand in creating the conference and maintaining it for twenty-three years, and it is one of the achievements that I am most proud of,” Leap said. “We didn’t have a safe space venue for LGBTQ language work when I started the conference in 1993, and today there are many places where this work is still viewed with suspicion and disdain. Not so at Lavender Languages. This may be what makes the conference attractive, its academic ‘safe space’ function.”

The first Lavender Languages Conference was held in conjunction with the 1993 March on Washington DC for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. At that time, very few academic venues were open to in-depth discussion of the relationships between language, gender, and sexuality, and few academic journals were publishing papers exploring the conversations in depth.

The conference’s accomplishments include encouraging the creation of a journal, the Journal of Language and Sexuality. It’s the world’s only journal devoted entirely to studies of language and sexuality, and Leap serves as a founding senior editor. “Our readership, like our authors, is world-wide and diverse in other ways—exactly in the spirit of the conference,” he said.

We reached out to Professor Leap over email to learn more about Lav 23, and plans for the future of the conference.


How did the conference go this year? What were some overall highlights for you?

The fact that the conference has been going for 23 years is important to me. The conference cannot happen without a lot of support from a lot of people, including the undergraduates who travel at their own expense to share their research findings, and the established scholars who travel from across the US and from more distant places (British West Indies, Scotland, Austria, South Africa) to do the same. That support remains after 23 years. When I say that Lavender Languages is the longest running LGBTQ studies conference in the US and maybe the world, and the only conference dedicated to studies of language, broadly defined, in LGTBQ life—this is what I am referring to: enduring interests in queer language/linguistics. This conference embodies that enduring interest.


Promoting a safe space environment is a main conference priority, with the info page announcing efforts made toward this end—low fees, accessible venues, casual environment, etc.—and the line “No one attending Lav 23 need feel alone, out-of-place, or unloved.” Can you tell me more about the conference’s “safe space” focus?

Though the world has changed greatly since 1993, there are many campus locations where queer language research is still discouraged. People say, ‘This isn’t real research, how will you get a job, etc.’ Our goal at Lavender Languages is to create a space where we can be supportive of these lines of inquiry and the people who pursue them. It is part of the ‘no attitude’ conference philosophy which we all work very hard to maintain during the three-day event.


How has conference interest grown over the years?

Attendance was much larger this year than at past conferences, due in part of a good turnout from on-campus, but also due to people travelling from various locations just to hear papers and participate in discussions. There is a very strong education function associated with the conference, with students (and younger scholars) finding ideas and suggestions here that they tell us they cannot receive back in their home institution.


How have you seen conversations and conference topics evolve over the years? In what ways were this year’s conversations and topics particular to this cultural/historical moment?

In earlier years, papers at Lavender Languages talked a lot about examples. We were busy discovering the presence of LGBTQ language and we wanted to share discoveries with others. We were challenged by others to stop being anecdotal and to start engaging theory—whether the theory be queer theory or linguistic theory, or theory of sexuality or urban geography or globalization, etc. People started to do that at the conference in the early 2000s. Several of the now-classic items in the LGBTQ language studies “canon” emerged from this work.

So the shift from description to theory has been one trend. Another trend has been a real concern with intersections of language and political economy: who speakers are in relation to race, ethnicity, class, opportunity structure, etc. We didn’t talk a lot about that in the 1990s (foolishly), but “intersectionality” is a major theme in almost every paper I heard at the conference this year.

To say this differently, people are not looking at language as a detached formation, as a plaything, separated from the realities of the historical moment. The language of drag queens is interesting because drag queens are real people, not aesthetic curiosities. Transgender language is interesting because transgender language is a major means of deflecting or combatting transphobic violence. And so on.

I’d also note how the conference has shifted from studies that focus only on American English. We had panels this year exploring LGBTQ issues in various forms of French (not your standard textbook French, either), and in Spanish as used in Central and South America. And papers addressing Spanish language themes were also included in panels across the program—including the Saturday plenary session, which featured the editors of the new anthology Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of LGBT Activism. Importantly, and especially in the case of the Spanish language papers, many of the presenters were native speakers of the languages under discussion. This lends qualities of authority and also personal voice to the discussion. Native speaker involvement is especially important when the presenters were students; this is confirming substantial investment in the future of lavender language research.


What will the conference look like in the coming years, and how can people get involved?

Next year, in 2017, we are taking the conference to the University of Nottingham in the UK. This will allow our European colleagues to have greater access to Lavender Languages discussions, and introduce more of those discussions to US scholars (who are often sheltered from the exciting work that is happening in Europe in the areas of queer linguistics.) I anticipate that Lav 24 will be quite international in focus. Details regarding conference planning are posted here.

For Lav 25, we hope to return to the American University campus to celebrate a quarter century of conference activity.


Would you like to add your voice to valuable conversations, like those at the Lavender Language Conference? Learn more about AU’s master’s in public anthropology program.


4 Anthropologists that Inspire Our Students

AU public anthropology students have diverse interests shaped by their experiences, their teachers, and their immersion in the work of established anthropologists. We reached out to four students to learn how their work has been inspired and guided by the work of others. Here is what they told us:


Kelci Reiss has been inspired by anthropologist and AU Associate Professor Adrienne Pine. Kelci says:

“My first day in a course taught by my academic advisor was a defining experience. It changed my life and set me on a social justice-oriented path in my approach to research and day-to-day life. Professor Pine taught me the importance of examining inequality, violence, and oppression through her own work in Honduras, and her ongoing involvement in the research community and with National Nurses United. Professor Pine has dedicated her career to fighting against systems of oppression, leading by example as she enriches the minds and passions of her students. Her dedication to anthropological research has inspired me daily, and I look forward to continuing to work with Professor Pine as I develop my master’s research.”

Kelci is interested examining the late effects of cancer and cancer treatments, and how cancer survivors experience barriers to follow-up care. She has also worked with undocumented Central American migrants, looking at their reasons for migration to the United States.


Anthropologist and Truckee Meadows Community College instructor Christine E. Boston inspires Caroline Robertson. Caroline says:

“Professor Christine E. Boston was the instructor of my first anthropology class. As my professor, she took me under her wing and became a role model. She helped me find the courage to become an anthropologist. Professor Boston introduced me to ideas such as the processes of human evolution and the ignorance behind contemporary slut-shaming—ideas I had not been exposed to in my small town upbringing. Further, Professor Boston’s fascination with Chilean mummies affirmed my own fascination with the dead, and with what we can learn from those who have gone before us. Currently, she is an instructor and discipline coordinator at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada and writes an anthropology blog with input from her students. I look forward to watching the growth of my mentor as she continues to influence young anthropologists like me.”

Caroline is interested in cultural anthropology in the United States.


Anthropologist and Messiah College professor Jenell Paris inspires Joshua Schea. Joshua says:

“Geertz, Mead, and Boaz are just a few of the great thinkers whose work has taught me what it means to be an anthropologist. However, no anthropologist has taught me more about looking into human experience, or made the work more fascinating, than my undergraduate professor and mentor Jenell Paris. Her work in queer studies, urban research, and the way she lives out her values as an anthropologist have inspired me, and are the reason I study anthropology today. Professor Paris’s work is varied, and includes researching a particular neighborhood in Washington, DC, and analyzing how women deal with the death of their young children through internet forums. She has an infectious curiosity about how the world works, demonstrating a desire to learn about the ways people experience this world.”

Joshua’s studies focus on religion and urban education. Over the next few years, he intends to examine how students and teachers interact with religion in the classroom.


Robin Svendsen found inspiration in Barbara Myerhoff’s work. Myerhoff was an American anthropologist and filmmaker, and founder of the Center for Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California. Robin says:

“Barbara Myerhoff is the author of the 1980 book Number Our Days: A Triumph of Continuity and Culture Among Jewish Old People in an Urban Ghetto. At its time, Number Our Days was a trailblazing text—representing a new direction for anthropology. Researched and written in the late 1970s, Number Our Days was situated in a disappearing Jewish Community in Venice Beach California, and Myerhoff’s unique look at people in her ‘own community,’ so to speak, offered an insider/outsider perspective and carried deeper meaning for the preservation of culture. The elderly, immigrant Jews featured in Myerhoff’s work were given a voice in their own history, something rarely afforded in the history of anthropology, and something that is still all too rare today. Myerhoff tackled the challenge of practicing objectivity in one’s own community, and her insider status enabled her to highlight the lives of people often forgotten. Because Myerhoff was considered by the community to be ‘one of their own,’ they opened up to her in a way never achieved by previous anthropologists. Myerhoff’s research techniques, insider status, and love of her subjects—as well as her deep belief in their need to be heard—are woven through her eloquent writing style, which opened doors into the intimate lives of profusely private people and provided a deeper understanding of the individual and collective experiences of being Jewish within the diaspora.”

Robin’s studies focus on third-wave immigration to the United States and on material culture.


Some of our students find their mentors in the master’s in public anthropology program. Others find the support to continue the work they’ve already been inspired to pursue. Learn what you can accomplish with us.

Top 5 Reasons to Choose Public Anthropology

Top 5 Reasons to Choose Public Anthropology

Public anthropology students are passionate about history and culture. They put their hands to work unearthing new species and studying culture on a global scale. They conduct research that makes a real difference in their communities and around the world. Sound like you? Take the next step by earning your master’s degree in public anthropology from American University.


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The priority deadline for fall 2016 enrollment is just around the corner. Get started on your application today.

davis blog post

Poetry in DC’s Public Spaces: An AU Student’s Journey

When Davis Shoulders arrived at AU for the master’s in public anthropology program, he was in search of a way to focus his research interests.

“I wanted a place that would guide me directly into communities that I could serve and help. I knew that the city of DC has such a variety of organizations and infrastructure for community support around the world,” Davis said.

He soon decided to turn a critical lens on the the DC community itself, exploring ways that public spaces—particularly those that house poetry readings—generate discourse among diverse groups.

“The conversations in these urban communities change people, and allow for certain performances of identity that are often subdued or hidden by systems of privilege,” Davis said. “In my work, I hope to feature the importance of these often unknown or informal public spaces, which provide a community-centric method of mapping the city.”


Slam Poetry as a Public Forum in the DC Community

When a space puts on a poetry slam, Davis has found, the environment can amplify diverse voices by offering equitable access to a microphone.

“Artists and audiences alike learn from the positive energy of the room, and from people who are willing to be honest on a stage for a few minutes,” Davis said.

In any given month, DC is home to more than 30 open mic and poetry nights, most taking place in the late evening hours. Davis plans to eventually devote one month to attending every performance offered, but for now he tries to attend one per week. He has been most engaged with the Beltway Poetry Slam, which hosts a competition the last Tuesday of the month at the Busboys and Poets in Brookland.

“A lot of my ‘research’ just involves showing up, being present and supportive of poets, and paying my five dollars to attend,” Davis said.

Davis has also interviewed some poets to develop his understanding of how they navigate and support the slam’s “safe spaces,” and his interviews have shaped his understanding of his role as a researcher.

His research is primarily focused on understanding the ways the poets choose to engage with these spaces. His biggest conclusion so far is that poets are incredibly intentional and social-justice oriented in their choices, including in the language they choose to express their ideas.

“It’s more than just entertainment,” Davis said. “Each and every poet lays down their privilege, their vulnerability for a bigger picture, for sharing their art in an impactful way that speaks honestly to themselves, while having the rest of the world in mind. It’s this sensitivity and awareness to current social justice issues, and how they navigate their identity in poetic conversation, that makes their boldly confident and often prophetic poetry so magical and moving.”

He has drawn from skills learned in his Community Documentary class, taught by Nina Shapiro-Perl, to produce digital stories and to consider his own positioning as a researcher. This has shaped his approach working in DC’s poetry community.

“Discovering my role in the community—whether as poet, audience member, or scorekeeper—is critical to validating any research that I eventually produce, so it can be an effective resource for this community,” Davis said.


Davis’s Typical Day on Campus

When he’s not attending poetry slams, Davis is busy with the other demands of the master’s in public anthropology program. He usually devotes his mornings to reading and studying, to clear his afternoons for classes and events on campus, including the Monday Social Justice Colloquium and the Metropolitan Policy Center series.

 It can be pleasantly distracting on campus with all the activist meetings and lectures that I could attend within a day, so I generally try to finish my reading at home before coming in,” Davis said.

Davis enjoys running into students and professors at Hamilton, the Department of Anthropology building, for quick conversations before getting back to work.

“Classes to me are just planned extensions of those incidental conversations I sometimes have in the hallways,” he said. “We all become teachers and students. You hear fellow classmates say things that make you revaluate your thoughts on a topic for the next month.”


Davis’s Journey toward Becoming a Public Anthropologist

Davis doesn’t have an undergraduate background in anthropology, so he searched for a program that would support the initial development of his skills and interests.

“When I read about AU’s program and its social justice mission, I was immediately inspired by a department that would proclaim such a strong stance in affecting the world around them. All the professors seemed to have such a diversity of work in anthropology that I felt that even if I wasn’t one hundred percent certain about my research focus, the faculty could give me a wide range of opportunities to explore.”

Going forward, Davis may pursue a PhD in urban studies, and he intends to continue engaging with urban communities. He names priorities including fighting gentrification and championing local rights to the city through positive public spaces.

“I am mostly committed to living intentionally in urban communities and offering my resources and support, whether that means working for a non-profit, a school, a housing community, or other activist groups,” Davis said.


Davis Shoulders, like many AU public anthropology students, has discovered his research and career interests through collaborating with our faculty and students. If you are interested in finding your own calling, you can learn more about the master’s in public anthropology at American University.


Revolutionary Medicine: Anthropology in Action

Student Beth Geglia arrived at AU with professional accomplishments in human rights campaigning, crisis intervention, and language interpretation—and with a dedication to activism, particularly in Central America. She completed the AU master’s in anthropology program and is now pursuing a PhD in anthropology at AU.

Drawing on her interests and skills, including training in documentary filmmaking, Beth engages in meaningful projects with an extensive reach. Of particular note is her documentary, Revolutionary Medicine: A Story of the First Garífuna Hospital, which Beth co-directed with journalist Jesse Freeston, and first screened in 2013. After a Washington, DC, premier in early 2014, a screening also took place this past November.

The film tells the story of a community-controlled free hospital, located in the small community of Ciriboya, Colón, on Honduras’ Caribbean Coast. Built in a town without paved roads or electricity, this is the first hospital on Afro-indigenous Garífuna land. While located in a small community, the hospital serves people from the entire region. People served by this hospital have few other options for healthcare because of barriers including cost, distance, and the need to communicate in the Garífuna language.

The film does more than highlight the achievements of the community Ciriboya. As Beth says, “The film is about the struggle for healthcare as a human right—which the hospital is very explicitly a part of, and which makes the messages in the film universal and relevant.”

Revolutionary Medicine has been shown in nine countries so far, and in over a dozen US universities. It won first prize in the 2015 Futures of Visual Anthropology Conference.

And, most significantly, it has inspired action in Honduras and incited support from abroad, making an on-the-ground difference in Ciriboya. The film’s success demonstrates the potential strength of partnership between anthropologists and communities.


The Community that Took Control of Their Healthcare

Beth provided some background on the history of the Garífuna. “The history of the Garífuna people includes forced displacement and resistance, dating back to the slave trade,” she said.

Today, the Garífuna live on the Caribbean coasts of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Nicaragua, and also in New York, Los Angeles, and other major US cities.

“On the Caribbean coasts of Honduras, they face neglect by the state, exemplified in part by the state’s failure to establish a hospital on Garífuna land,” Beth said.

Concerned about the lack of health resources available to them, the community took action. Their self-organization and persistence have resulted in the First Garífuna Hospital, the subject of Revolutionary Medicine.

Beth began work on Revolutionary Medicine after meeting Dr. Luther Castillo, a founding doctor of the First Garífuna Hospital. In the film, the community’s story is told in the words of Castillo and other Garífuna community members.

The hospital itself, the filmmakers point out, has come to stand as a symbol of Garífuna self-determination, with the hospital offering an alternative model of healthcare as the Honduras national system grows increasingly privatized.

The hospital’s work is funded primarily by Garífuna living around the world, by US unions and solidarity groups, and by the Cuban government. The Cuban-trained medical professionals at the First Garífuna Hospital are members of the Garífuna themselves. Without access to electricity, the hospital uses solar panels to power an x-ray machine, an ultrasound, dental equipment, and a laboratory. According to hospital records, the staff has carried out more than half a million patient consultations in less than a decade—and has never charged a cent for its services.


The Film’s Impact in Honduras

Revolutionary Medicine has introduced audiences to new ideas about healthcare and has helped expand the hospital’s work.

A 2013 screening for National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) inspired medical students to partner with the professionals at the First Garífuna Hospital.

AU public anthropology Assistant Professor Adrienne Pine was engaged in teaching and field work in Honduras at the time, and she also screened the film for her nursing students, prompting 12 of her students to join the efforts of the UNAH medical students.

Working alongside the Garífuna doctors, the students carried out a study in Ciriboya on the prevalence of hemoglobin S, which can result in sickle cell anemia. The study will help medical professionals with prevention and treatment; it will also contribute to the body of knowledge about hemoglobinopathy.

With the support of UNAH, students have provided useful services for the medical professionals in Ciriboya. The students have benefited from the partnership as well, learning from the Ciriboya community’s transformative approach to community-driven medicine. Built on collaboration and solidarity visits, the relationship between the students and hospital continues today.


The Film’s Reach Outside Honduras

Revolutionary Medicine showcases the successes of one small community, and it has incited action on behalf of the First Garífuna Hospital. The screenings drive important conversations about alternative models of healthcare in the US and elsewhere.

Screenings have been held in the US with activists, medical professionals, social work students, youth, and medical students in attendance. The film was screened repeatedly as part of the political education project of Maryland’s local “Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign,” which Beth worked on in the summer of 2013 as a public anthropologist intern with United Workers. Screenings have also been held for Diaspora communities in the US, mainly in the Bronx, in partnership with New York’s Garífuna Health and Education Support Institute.

In June 2014, Revolutionary Medicine was screened in Havana, Cuba on a number of dates, where medical students also presented the preliminary results of the hemoglobin study.

Beth observes that people leave the screenings feeling inspired to act.

In 2014, Adrienne wrote an article, “Common Purpose, Common Struggle,” for National Nurses United Magazine about her work in Honduras, the successes of the hospital, and the value of Beth and Jesse’s documentary.

Adrienne argues that nurses in the US, Honduras, and across the globe are united in a fight for the health of their patients, against the forces of corporate healthcare and privatization.

Beth and Jesse’s film, she says, can serve as an educational tool and a foundation for activism, opening the minds of healthcare providers by demonstrating how an alternative, community-based system of healthcare can work effectively.


How to watch Revolutionary Medicine

You can watch the film’s trailer or purchase the film at 50% of all sales go directly to the expansion of the health project.

Photo: Still from Revolutionary Medicine: A Story of the First Garífuna Hospital



Beth Geglia has used the tools of anthropology to make a real difference with her award-winning documentary. If this work interests you, please explore the master’s in public anthropology at American University.




Student Research Engages #blacklivesmatter and Mountaintop Coal Removal

David Reische is deeply involved in research projects that engage with social media, put video equipment into the hands of communities, and make an impact.

Recently, the public anthropology master’s student used a qualitative analysis of Twitter to examine processes of social movement formation within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. His ongoing project—visual anthropology on mountaintop coal removal—is equally dynamic.

“For the movements I’ve studied, from #blacklivesmatter to Occupy to Anonymous, I consider myself a participant and contributor first, and a researcher second,” David says.

For David, there’s no “typical” day of research. You might find him hitting the streets to demand change, sitting behind his computer using Twitter search functions and other tools to analyze discourse, or presenting his work to AU audiences and beyond.

David shares his experiences with his two current research projects below.


Off the screen and into the streets: The evolution of #blacklivesmatter

Recently, David has applied critical discourse analysis to examine how the hashtag #blacklivesmatter helped give rise to the social movement it names. David sampled tweets in three categories – “before,” “during,” and “after,” and analyzed the evolution of the term over time. He explains his categories methodology as follows:

“The ‘before’ category corresponds to the first use of the hashtag in conjunction with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. This was July 13, 2013. The ‘during’ category was sampled from the peak use of the hashtag, which corresponded to the unrest following the acquittal of officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson in November, 2014. At this time, the movement was not yet ubiquitously known as the #blacklivesmatter movement. In January 2015, #blacklivesmatter was named the American Dialect Society’s word of the year, the first time a hashtag had received this distinction. I used this as a tangible benchmark for when the movement WAS known as the #blacklivesmatter movement, and tweets from this time comprise the ‘After’ category.”

Employing critical discourse analysis and linguistic tools, David then analyzed who was authoring the tweets, how the author positioned themselves, who their intended audience was, and what was said, to determine what function the #blacklivesmatter hashtag served.

“For example, in the ‘before’ category, the hashtag never stands alone. It’s used in conjunction with other hashtags, such as #trayvonmartin, or #J4TMLA—justice for Trayvon Martin Los Angeles. These additional hashtags are needed to provide context and understand what the tweet is about,” David said.

Moving forward into the “during” category, David saw some tweets using #blacklivesmatter without additional context.

“An example would be a tweet that said, ‘I believe that we will win. #blacklivesmatter,’” David explained. “Without any additional information, it is expected the audience will know who ‘we’ refers to—Ferguson protesters or the movement writ large—and what they will win.”

By the “After” phase, David found that, in, in 13 of 20 tweets sampled, the hashtag was the subject of the tweet, and not simply contextual information.

“By the time officer Darren Wilson was acquitted in the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, the ‘black lives matter’ hashtag alone was sufficient to establish what the tweet was about” he said.

David’s research takes a close look at how social media enables change—and he works both behind a computer screen and on the ground alongside the activists with whom he works.


Community documentary: Nuanced approaches to the complexities of mountaintop coal removal

David became interested in mountaintop coal removal as an undergraduate. For his first field experience, he traveled to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia, where he was struck by the ecological effects of removing mountaintops for coal.

On this trip, David met Larry Gibson, a “little old man” standing up to save his home, located on a $650 million coal deposit.

“I realized that if one person like Larry had the power to make such a difference, that I could, too,” David says.

“It was on this trip that I decided to dedicate the rest of my life and anthropological career to political activism. Larry Gibson passed away in 2012, but I see myself as carrying on his legacy and continuing the education that was his goal.”

David has made two subsequent trips to Kayford Mountain and has since involved other students in visual anthropology projects to shed light on the complex conflicts between the mining industry and opponents of coal.

At AU, David has sharpened his community documentary skills, an approach that gives people authorship and control over their own stories. This way of working will help to engage the coal miners who’d been hesitant to participate out of fear their positions would be misrepresented.

“My SRP (substantial research project) will use the footage and insights I’ve gathered on my trips to West Virginia,” David says. “I plan to make a movie highlighting the ways in which we connect with miners and bridge these often hostile divides, including issues of mine safety and economic alternatives to the coal economy, such as industrial hemp farming.”


How the AU Master’s in Public Anthropology Program Supports David’s Work 

David was drawn to AU for its opportunities to pursue applied, politically engaged activism.

“My time studying anthropology in undergrad taught me about the problems facing the world and how to think about and engage with them as an anthropologist. My time in graduate school at AU has been about figuring out how to build solutions to these problems,” David says.

He notes that entering the program with his own goals has helped shape his experience:

“Having personal goals and well-defined interests helps you weave every class, method, and reading together in a purposeful way, and my professors have all provided me opportunities to apply what we’re learning in a way that fits into my interests.”

David plans to continue integrating his interests in activism and anthropology, with a particular focus on those non-profit groups that fight against capitalism, he says.

“I plan to use the tools I’ve acquired at AU to continue my activism and fight for social justice.”


David Reische is one of many public anthropology students pursuing real work that impacts real people. If you are interested in conducting this type of work—or have other ideas you’d like to take on—learn more about the master’s in public anthropology at American University.



Deaf Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa Lead the Way


In 1996, Uganda was the first country in the world to have an elective deaf Member of Parliament. In 2008, South Africa wrote South African Sign Language into its constitution as one of its official languages. And other African countries have also enacted equally progressive legislation.


On the other hand, the U.S. has never appointed a deaf Congressperson. Nor do all US states recognize American Sign Language as a foreign language.

Many people think of “development” as flowing from Western nations outward. The US especially is accustomed to being the model for others—from capitalism to democracy. But regarding the social and political inclusion of deaf communities, sub-Saharan Africa is taking the lead.

Drs. Audrey Cooper and Khadijat Rashid have taken notice. Both are American University alumnae, and Dr. Cooper is a public anthropology professor at AU through the end of this semester.*

“In many places around the world, deaf people are being denied use of their natural languages,” Cooper says. “Their citizenship participation is limited because of the ideas mainstream populations hold about signed languages or ‘disability.’ They’re often excluded from social, political, and economic participation—if not in policy, then in everyday practice.”

This is not as much the case in Africa. Deaf people here are—and have been—active in their communities, pushing for change and taking the lead in making their lives better.

“They’ve created extremely effective strategies for gaining social and political participation using their signed languages,” Cooper says. But outside of Africa, people aren’t really aware of the progress being made there.

Others working in areas like language rights, gender equality, or signed language research ethics can learn from these African regions—but not if they don’t know about it.

So to promote transnational awareness and share strategies for action, Cooper and Rashid teamed up to host the African Lessons conference in April 2012 in Washington, DC. More than 300 African and American colleagues turned out to jump-start the conversation, sharing research and strategies developed by African deaf social leaders.

“By the end of the conference, people were asking us if we would write a book about all the rich information shared, since no one had done this before,” Rashid says.

And they did. The knowledge gained from the conference inspired the duo’s newly published book, Citizenship, Politics, Difference: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Signed Language Communities, which they co-edited.

The book is a collection of essays from 16 contributors, and it draws examples from all regions in sub-Saharan Africa, including Western, Eastern, Central, and Southern. These regions are home to more than 2,000 languages and are equally rich in signed languages.

The essays examine sub-Saharan African deaf people’s perspectives on citizenship, politics, and difference in relation to their language practices; and they analyze these practices in relation to sociopolitical histories and social change.

“Deafness has long been considered a disability and treated as such,” Rashid says. “But these communities are advancing different definitions of themselves and demanding to be treated like other citizens.”

One of the main topics explored is how these groups have collaborated across borders to bring attention to range of issues and secure their rights as citizens. “Borders” here can mean geographic, language, ethnic, gender, sexual identity, and others.

“Around the world, deaf groups are often small but very active communities that are leading change,” Rashid says. As editors, the two wanted to capture the activism happening among African deaf communities, which they hope will serve as a model for other countries.

The book’s topics supersede just deaf people in Africa, Rashid says. “It’s really a book about the forces that impact all of us. We are all citizens of a country, we are all different in some way, and we all use language to communicate.”

*In January, Cooper will join Rashid at Gallaudet University, beginning a new position as assistant professor and director of the Master’s Program in International Development.

Want to read the book? Get your copy here or from the AU library. It’s titled Citizenship, Politics, Difference: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Signed Language Communities, co-edited by Audrey C. Cooper and Khadijat K. Rashid

Click to learn more about a master’s degree in public anthropology from American University.


Conversation Starter: Associate Professor David Vine Discusses US Military Bases Abroad

At AU, public anthropology students work alongside thought leaders on the cutting edge of their field—professors driving discussion around the country and striving for meaningful, on-the-ground impacts.

One of these leaders is Associate Professor David Vine.

David’s newest book, Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, is drawing widespread attention to the impact of US military bases on foreign and domestic policy.

In Base Nation, David argues that by maintaining more than 800 overseas bases—occupied by hundreds of thousands of troops and their family members—the US incites geopolitical tensions, provokes resentment, and involves itself in situations that compromise democratic values.

“I hope it helps build a conversation, on Capitol Hill and nationally, about closing more US military bases overseas, many of which are unnecessary, hugely wasteful of taxpayer funds, and harmful in a variety of ways,” David said over email.

Because of its bases, the US finds itself partnering with dictators, enforcing ongoing colonial relationships in US territories, and undermining local economies. Not to mention the astounding financial drain: By David’s count, the US pours nearly $160 billion into maintaining bases and troops overseas each year.

“I’m encouraged that people across the political spectrum are beginning to realize that closing unnecessary military bases will help improve US and global security,” David said.


Getting the Word Out, from National Newspapers to Radio Spots

In an interview for NPR’s All Things Considered (which you can listen to here) David discusses the historical development of bases and the contemporary tensions surrounding them. In his New York Times Op-Ed, David argued for the shuttering of unneeded bases abroad—in addition to cutbacks the Pentagon seeks for domestic bases. In a piece for Politico, David discusses the reach of US bases across the world (with an infographic to illustrate).

David was also featured on the debut episode of Abby Martin’s new show, The Empire Files. His previous work includes the book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia.


The Power of Research in the Classroom  

Beyond his deep dive into military bases, David’s research extends to issues including gentrification in Brooklyn, environmental refugees, homelessness and mental illness, and DC-area basketball.

David draws from all of his varied research interests to inform his teaching of AU anthropology students.

“I try to bring my research into all my classes,” David said. “I have designed classes specifically around my research, including the Anthropology of Militarism, Understanding War and Building Peace, and Writing Ethnography.”

The role of public anthropology in addressing public concerns is at the heart of David’s work, and he considers AU a good home. “The people here are wonderful,” he said. “Individually and collectively, I am especially glad that they are committed to pursuing scholarship that makes a difference in the world.”


Do these sound like people you’d like to learn from?

David Vine is just one of many AU anthropology professors committed to working toward meaningful change. Find out more about the master’s in public anthropology at American University.


Featured Alumnus: Documentary Filmmaker Keenan Holmes

We are proud to highlight the achievements of recent public anthropology master’s student Keenan Holmes, who screened his first full-length documentary, Indigenous Eyes on DC, at Native American Lifelines in September.

Indigenous Eyes on DC explores ways in which Native people are perceived by non-Natives and strives to amplify the voices and work of Natives in the tri-state area. The film explores the questions:

  • What are Natives in the tri-state urban setting doing about the misrepresentation of their identity?
  • How are Indigenous individuals rebelling against the popular culture’s stereotypes of their image?

Keenan employed critical race theory in driving the emphasis of his work. “I was focusing on the intersections of race, power, and law, and how they all meet in clothing stores, music festivals, classrooms, in law proceedings or court, and in stadiums for sports,” he said.

Anthro2cBefore turning on his camera, Keenan spent a year learning, listening, and connecting with the people and communities that would become his interview subjects. He spoke with grassroots organizers, urban Natives, artists, a Chief of a Native Reservation, and dozens of other community members. He attended more than 20 Native events, including festivals, PowWows, church meetings, museum symposiums, and protests. He consulted existing documentaries including In Whose Honor? and Bones of Contention.

“The subjects in my film have completely different occupations, yet there is community growth and advocacy flowing through their work,” Keenan said.


Keenan’s Journey to the Public Anthropology Program

Keenan majored in art and archeology as an undergraduate, and spent time at Moundville in Alabama, which has 26 earthen mounds and was occupied by Mississippian Indians from around 1000-1450 AD.

“I knew I wanted to study Indigenous artifacts up until that point, but I soon realized I felt a stronger calling towards the contemporary Natives in this country,” Keenan said.

He read about Dan Sayers’s work at the Great Dismal Swamp, and admired how AU professors still have their boots on the ground—as archaeologists or working in marginalized communities.

Keenan found his opportunity to bring his interests together at AU.

“American’s Anthropology Department fuses the best aspects of archaeology, sociology, advocacy, activism, and film in one department. That was exactly what I was looking for,” he said.


Keenan’s AU Experience

While at AU, Keenan took a documentary filmmaking class with Nina Shapiro-Perl and Larry Kirkman. For the course, Keenan worked with other students to create a short documentary about soldiers who use yoga to heal from PTSD (which you can view here). This experience incited his interest in making his own film outside the classroom—and gave him the tools necessary to succeed.

His connections with AU faculty and students led Keenan to contacts that would support him outside the classroom, and those connections have allowed him to see the varied roads that public anthropologists can take in their careers.

“I know people who work in newspapers and study old photos and documents at museums, and one who works for National Geographic,” he said. “Some go on to teach, some do independent work in other countries, and some help out marginalized groups through UNICEF.”

Keenan made connections that enabled him to take his passion for anthropology and make a real impact in the lives of others.


What’s Next for Keenan?

Keenan has finished his public anthropology MA requirements and will walk at commencement this December. After graduation, he is interested in creating more documentaries, including a film focused on individuals in the DC area who are fed up with the “sneaker culture” and high prices.

He also intends to work with the Alabama Natural History Museum Summer Excavation Expeditions in May.


Interested in Seeing Keenan’s Films?

Soon, Keenan’s film will appear on YouTube under the name KeenAnthro (he uses this handle for Veoh, Twitter, and YouTube). You can also view his group documentary about a veteran who used Yoga Nidra to heal his anguish from multiple tours of war here.


Ready to make a difference? Learn more about the master’s in public anthropology at American University.


Print Your Own 3D Fossils

How the Rising Star Project Exemplifies Public Anthropology

“[The] Rising Star [Project] was the first time I’ve seen open science done successfully on such a large scale.”
– Becca Peixotto, CAS/MA ’13 and PhD student

By Katlin Chadwick, Writer/Editor, American University

On the day National Geographic announced the Homo naledi discovery, it also posted two scientific articles in an open-access online journal—giving anyone the ability to download the papers for free. As of September 15, 2015, the papers had been downloaded more than 14,000 times. Project Rising Star also uploaded about 90 high-quality 3-D scans of the fossils in an open-access database for anyone to download and reproduce on a 3-D printer.

Teachers and professors around the world are already printing out the fossils, bringing them to class, and integrating them into lesson plans.

“This changes the way we think about fossils,” says Becca Peixotto, one of the six scientists on the Rising Star excavation team and graduate of AU’s public anthropology master’s program. “They’re no longer locked away in a high security vault. They’re being conceived of as knowledge for everyone.”

Part of AU’s public anthropology program is communicating what you’re doing with the world—and putting that knowledge toward greater social understanding. AU faculty and students already publish in outlets outside of academic journals so as to reach a broader audience. And a big part of what Becca hopes to do in her career is engage the public even more with the past—and with anthropology.

“Even if we can’t post every detail about what we’re learning, the idea of being open about research is something I’m trying to incorporate going forward,” she says.


A Collaborative Discovery

The Rising Star Project was an open access model from the start. Its lead scientist, Lee Berger, found the six scientists for the excavation team by putting out a Facebook post. And each member would come from a different specialty and background.

Once the team was on-site at the cave outside Johannesburg, they worked closely with local volunteers and students to make the whole excavation happen in a short amount of time.

“In a field that’s typically closed off, it’s been remarkable that everyone supported each other and worked together,” Becca says. After a day’s work, the scientist team also took the time to share with the outside world what they were finding.

“We were skyping with schools around the world, from the U.S. to Taiwan,” Becca says. Through blogs and social media, they engaged the public, youth, locals and other scholars, involving them in their scientific process.

After the excavation was complete, Rising Star put out another call for junior researchers to help them analyze the fossils.

“From the beginning, there’s been an emphasis on incorporating early career scientists into the project,” Becca says. Not only was it a learning experience for these scientists, it helped speed up the analysis too. The team finished analyzing the fossils in just six weeks—a process that usually takes many months.

“Rising Star was the first time I’ve seen open science done successfully on such a large scale,” Becca says. “It makes me excited and hopeful.”


Engaging the Public with the Past

How did these hominid fossils get down in the deep cave? When do they date back to? What capacities did Naledi’s smaller brain have? Even amidst an amazing discovery, there are so many questions and so much for us modern humans still to learn.

But this perhaps will be made easier by sharing. Now that the data is accessible to other researchers on the web, “we can all have an academic conversation and learn from each other as we analyze this information,” Becca says.

“We’re shifting the paradigm and power structure with this open access model.” Becca hopes to follow the Rising Star model in how it’s made science accessible.

“People are getting excited about science and sharing in the process of understanding—in real time.”


Click to learn more about a master’s degree in public anthropology from American University.


Photo Credit: The team lays out fossils of H. naledi at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute. The new species of human relative was discovered by a team led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand deep inside a cave located outside Johannesburg, South Africa. The find was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife. Photo by Robert Clark/National Geographic


Presenting the 2015 Public Anthropology Conference

The 12th Annual Public Anthropology Conference (PAC 2015) will take place this weekend on October 3-4. We’re excited to learn from public anthropologists and scholar-activists from a broad range of disciplines, and to engage current debates.


This year’s topic is SHIFTING CLIMATES: Dialogues of the Urgent and Emergent.

The keynote presentations, panel discussion, and workshops will probe the issues facing our rapidly transforming world. We’ll focus on the immediate response demanded by today’s problems of economic development, armed conflict, international human rights abuses, racial injustices, medical emergencies, sexual and gender inequalities, and more.

This conference will open forums for dialogue branching into “the urgent” and the “emergent.” We define the “urgent” as social justice issues demanding time-sensitive answers, and “the emergent” as our preparedness to approach new challenges as they arise―while constantly reevaluating the frameworks in which we approach our work.

Presenters and other participants will discuss our roles as practitioners, teachers, students, and interested members of the public within today’s shifting climates. We will probe modes of producing and supporting positive social, environmental, economic, and political change.



The three keynotes have been designated to celebrate the work of three retiring American University anthropology faculty members, William Leap, Brett Williams, and Gretchen Schafft, and their incredible contribution to public anthropology.

Denis M. Provencher’s work explores representations and performances of citizenship, gender, sexuality, religion, and hate speech in global contexts. Denis is associate professor of French and intercultural communication, and affiliate associate professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program and in the Language, Literacy, and Culture Doctoral Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and has published two monographs and a number of journal articles and chapters. Denis will be honoring William Leap and his work.

Judith Goode will be speaking about Brett Williams. Judith is known for her pioneering urban anthropology, which first took place in Medellin and Bogota, Colombia. Throughout the 1970s, she conducted urban ethnography in Philadelphia, and she has served in several prominent leadership roles in the field, working to make the voice of anthropology more central to debates about public issues. She is professor emerita at Temple University.

Laurie Krieger will be honoring Gretchen Schafft. Laurie is a medical anthropologist who serves as Senior Advisor in Health and Social Science for The Manoff Group, a woman-owned, small consulting firm working in international health. She has held many leadership roles in fieldwork and on prominent committees and is the author of numerous research papers in the gray literature. Laurie has also authored training curricula, assessments, strategies, manuals, and public health “tools,” in addition to publishing academic literature. She has been a long-time member of WAPA, the oldest local practitioner organization in anthropology, where Gretchen is one of the founders.



October 3-4, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Events take place at Mary Graydon Center, McKinley Building, and School of International Service (SIS) Building.


Getting There:

AU Maps & Directions


DC Metro & AU Shuttle

AU is accessible via the Tenleytown stop on the Red Line (toward upper left on metro map)—just outside the metro east entrance there is an American University shuttle bus stop. The AU Shuttle Blue/Main Campus Route runs every 10-15 minutes: see live bus-location app—ask the driver for main campus stop nearest MGC (immediately past Ward Circle). See also AU Maps/Directions.



Parking is free on weekends and after 5 p.m. Parking is available under the Katzen Arts Center on Massachusetts Avenue and in parking deck attached to Mary Graydon Center.

Questions: Contact:



Get in on the conversation.

It’s not too late to sign up and join the discussion. Register for the conference>

Advance registration closes at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, October 2. On-site registration will be available on the second floor of the Mary Graydon Center outside room 245.


Social Justice Colloquium Series: Igniting Conversations on Campus

It’s happening, all semester long: Gatherings of intellectual activists, sharing relevant work that furthers social justice.

Will you be there?

The College of Arts and Sciences and the AU Anthropology Department are excited to announce the start of the 2015 Fall Social Justice Colloquium series. This new series of seminars is designed to highlight the current research of public anthropologists—and of other scholars whose work combines theory with a strong commitment to social justice. These events are a rare opportunity to hear from and connect with like-minded individuals across disciplines.

Launched September 14 and running through Monday, November 23, the nine seminars will address issues and work spanning the globe. Each talk (with the exception of Becca Peixotto’s September 14 presentation) will take place Mondays, 12:00-1:30 p.m. in Kreeger 100, with light fare provided.

continue reading Social Justice Colloquium Series: Igniting Conversations on Campus

14_Homo_naledi_cr_John Hawks

AU Student Part of Human Ancestor Excavation


“By the time the interview was over, I knew that if by some miracle I got this chance, I was going to drop everything and go.” ~Becca Peixotto (far left in photo)

By: Katlin Chadwick, Writer at American University

When Becca Peixotto and the other five scientists on the Rising Star excavation team arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, they hoped for something big. Fossils from a single skeleton, perhaps, that could help inform our evolutionary timeline.

But once they maneuvered their way through the cave, down a skinny, jagged chute, and into the hidden Dinaledi chamber, none were prepared for what they found. The floor was quite literally covered in fossils.

So they got to work. Each uncovered fossil was assigned a number, placed in a plastic bag, bubble-wrapped, put in a plastic container, and bubble-wrapped again to send back up the chute. They’d brought along the packaging needed for a three-week excavation, but after just three days, they’d already gone through their entire supply of plastic containers.

Skulls. Femurs. 190 teeth. Enough replicated pieces to suggest 15 separate individuals. This was an unprecedented find in this type of fossil hominid work.


An Unexpected Chance
Becca is a historical archaeologist focused on artifacts. In her public anthropology master’s program at American University and ongoing PhD work (also at AU), she’s worked in remote sites uncovering pieces of civilizations past—for example, a prehistoric Native American village in Frederick, Md., and the Great Dismal Swamp in southeast Virginia. The latter is the topic of her master’s thesis and current PhD work.

Some of her excavations have involved human remains, but hominid morphology, as it’s called, is a whole other specialty entirely. So how did Becca end up unearthing what would turn out to be one of the greatest hominid discoveries in history? She credits it to a combination of things.

At the time the call went out for the Rising Star expedition, Becca had just finished her graduate program and was looking for more archaeology experience before starting her PhD. She’s also a wilderness expert and first responder familiar with leading large adventure trips involving caving, backpacking, rock climbing and ropes work.

So when Rising Star’s head scientist posted the Facebook ad seeking scientists with caving experience, it was almost too good to be true.

“It seemed written for me,” Becca says. “It was a chance to combine my two skillsets of archeology and a background in adventure and wilderness.”

She sent off her application, thinking her chances were slim. But to her surprise, they requested a Skype interview.

“By the time the interview was over, I knew that if by some miracle I got this, I was going to drop everything and go.”


Theory Strengthens Practice
Becca wasn’t the only non-paleoanthropologist on the team. Each of the scientists brought different perspectives into the cave. Becca added historical archaeology and an ability to analyze situations in tough environments. And all teammates brought the willingness to squeeze into small spaces.

“The exchange of ideas between us as we were excavating was incredible. We all had different ways of thinking about how things might be arranged and what our next move should be. Paleoanthropologists approach excavations differently than anthropologists.” This combination was an advantage.

“The cave site was actually very much like an archaeological setting in that the fossils were in a loose setting rather than rock. So we non-paleoanthropologists were able to add that sensibility to the excavation.”

AU’s public anthropology program was good preparation. Because it’s a four-field department, Becca had collaborated with other scientists before. “It helps to work with other specialties because everyone brings something to the table. You can approach the same question in very different ways.”

Her field experience in the Great Dismal Swamp was what gave her the courage to apply to the position in the first place. The theoretical study back on campus helped with the rest.

“AU professors asked us to think deeply about all types of anthropology topics. It was the level of academic and theoretical thought required that gave me the confidence to hang with these big scientists.”

There’s still a lot to do, but in her work Becca wants to follow the Rising Star model in how it’s made this discovery—and scientific research at large—accessible to the bigger world.

Click to learn more about a master’s degree in public anthropology from American University.


Photo credit: The “underground astronauts” (left to right): Becca Peixotto, Alia Gurtov, Elen Feuerriegel, Marina Elliott, K. Lindsay (Eaves) Hunter and Hannah Morris. The team of scientists excavated the chamber where H. naledi, a new species of human relative, was discovered. The find was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife. Photo by John Hawks

PA Blog 1 – WIDNR Image

What Is Public Anthropology

Theory, Practice, and Social Justice

What the dictionary might tell you: Public anthropology builds on other fields of anthropology to serve the public good—in ways you can see.

What public anthropology means at AU: theory, practice, and social justice.

The term “public anthropology” can feel vague if you’re not in-the-know. We’ve outlined what it means at American University: the theory underlying our work, the forms it takes in practice, and how public anthropology drives social justice.


A lot of research is built with a “do no harm” ethos in mind, but public anthropology goes further—actively striving to enact social change.

Public anthropologists look at the roles that cultural forces, societal power structures, and historical legacies play in shaping today’s world. In response, we harness skills in critical inquiry, communication, and problem solving to make an impact.

Importantly, we also emphasize transparency. Too often, academic research—including the research done by anthropologists—is completely opaque to those outside the field. The public has no way to access it or influence it. In contrast, the “public” in public anthropology refers not only to the public concerns we engage, but to our emphasis on openness. Our work is visible to the public and owned by the public. We invite society to participate in big conversations and are held accountable to the people we serve.

Our graduate students come to the field from archeology, cultural/social anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and biological anthropology, but our work draws on fields far beyond. By engaging sociology, public history, education, international development, justice, and law, we shape nuanced lenses through which to view societal dynamics.


Public anthropologists put our skills to work in public service, community organizing, and social justice advocacy. We work in women’s and minority health, educational equity, and cultural resource management. We strive to better human rights conditions and to further environmental justice.

In short, we apply the perspectives of public anthropology at organizations that concern themselves with public problems.

Our public anthropology students have found meaningful internships with the Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service, National Center for Environmental research, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. They have made an impact in organizations in Washington, DC, and across the globe, including at the Peace Corps, the US Department of State, the AIDS and International Development Project, and the Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation.

Social Justice

Public anthropology identifies the most urgent problems of our world, then draws from a broad body of work to illuminate pathways to solutions.

No public anthropologist can spend too much time in an ivory tower. By working in solidarity with the communities we live in and study, public anthropologists push for real, significant betterment in people’s lives throughout the world. By pushing for transparency, public anthropologists break past academic elitism to achieve on-the-ground social justice.

Our students are making a difference in their communities, working to effect a more just world, and we’d love for you to join us.


Learn more about public anthropology at American University.