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.


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!

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.