On Thursday, Feb. 15, WCU Anthropology Club and Lambda Alpha Nu, the national honor society for anthropology students, sponsored West Chester’s celebration of World Anthropology Day 2018. According to Liz Strauss, Anthropology Club president and secretary of Lambda Alpha Nu, “Universities all over the world are holding similar events to ours.” Strauss also stated the “goal for our Anthropology Day celebration was to educate the public on the discipline . . . [and to] give students the opportunity to talk to anthropology students and faculty about the major and minor. There are countless majors in the discipline and, even as students, we have already had multiple field opportunities and have been able to attend conferences to network with professionals.”
Students filed into Sykes Ballroom A to see five posters produced by West Chester University anthropology students, including one by Taria RiveraMontes on “Cultural Assimilation and Kinship: Summer with the Cowichan and the Lyackson.” At the front of the hall, archaeological tools and artifacts were laid out for display. After a few minutes of conversations between attendees about their experiences with anthropology, Strauss showcased a Powerpoint depicting some activities that anthropology students partake in, such as the archaeological field school held every summer.
Strauss introduced professor Paul Stoller from the Anthropology Department who said, “There is a war on science . . . people are skeptical of science . . . and they come up with alternative facts. These alternative facts are woven into a kind of tapestry which creates an alternative reality . . . and the challenge for all science, of which anthropology is a part, is to defend science and to demonstrate how the insights of science are important to us as we struggle as a society today.”
Stoller, who has conducted extensive ethnographic studies on the Songhai people of Niger as well as West African immigrant communities in New York City, then argued that, “Anthropology is very well situated to engage in this battle . . .no one’s really thought about what significant climate change is going to do to our populations when the seas rise and there are floods throughout the country, when things get warmer, when diseases expand. There’s going to be huge social dislocations, and anthropologists are already studying this kind of thing to prepare for what’s going to happen in the future.”
Stoller went on: “What we bring to the discussion . . . is a focus that is very different from that of other sciences. We are, by and large, ethnographers, which is to say we do ground-level studies. We live with the people that we’re trying to understand and then we try to describe their lifeways so our insights are bottom-up insights rather than top-down, and in anthropology from the 1920’s on we’ve had a long record of fighting for social justice—of being publicly engaged.”
Darius Davenport, a first-year student currently enrolled in Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, remarked: “I just came here because I’m in Dr. Di Giovine’s class and I’m considering declaring a minor in anthropology, so I want to learn more about it. My goal with cell and molecular biology is to help people and I feel like anthropology will help me do that.”
Liz Strauss also appreciated the humanitarian aspects of “studying anthropology [which] has made me a better person overall. I am so much more compassionate and knowledgeable about the world. I think that anthropologists are an essential part of society. They have the tools to understand humanity and educate the general public . . . because of their unique way of understanding humanity and communicating that with the world.”
Regarding how she ended up in the field, Strauss said, “I was actually originally a history major. I chose anthropology because it offered me much more diverse learning opportunities. I decided to focus in archaeology because I have a love for the past and being able to discover history is one of the best feelings in the world.”
“It’s a reality that [anthropology is] being pressured to communicate in ways we haven’t communicated. Before, it was very much a domain of if you want to do anthropology you have to work in a museum or you become a professor and live in the ivory tower. The reality is that there are a lot of other jobs now that can take anthropologists, and use our really unique skill set. Our form of research is qualitative, but it’s deeper than what a lot of people do when they say they do qualitative research: They talk to someone and interview in a way that isn’t just quantifiable and they call it qualitative research,” said Strauss.
She went on: “What we do is in-depth, living, lived experience with people over a long period of time . . . I’ve spent many years travelling with pilgrims and working with historic preservationists at heritage sites to get the real experience, to have one foot as a participant and one foot as a researcher. That kind of stuff is maybe hard to convey publicly, at least the way many of us have been trained, but nowadays we’re doing a much better job, and we’re doing a great job in this department of understanding how to parlay that into how this can be more useful, bringing in the public so-to-speak.”
One example of this, according Di Giovine, is “the exhibit that we have [in the Old Library Museum] on Human Rights in Latin America, which is a perfect example of the way that we can take Archaeology and Anthropology public” in which “we were able to partner with NGO’s that walk the Sonoran Desert looking for people. They’re humanitarian aid workers that refill big jugs of water for undocumented migrants traveling over these harsh environments.”
Dr. Stoller believes that “[using narrative] is a powerful way to convey scientific insights but in a different register . . . The way that you convey knowledge is through narratives. If you go to a conference and someone throws a whole bunch of scientific jargon and data at you, you’re not going to remember that. If someone tells you an interesting story on the same concept that will sink in.”
Student Nadia Kadiri agreed, “I think because people do enjoy stories is why information that people receive through stories sticks more than scientific jargon.”
Stoller added, “There’s a cognitive psychologist named Jerome Bruner who said there are two forms of knowledge: There’s the analytic construction of knowledge and the narrative construction of knowledge. And the narrative construction of reality really triggers something in the brain.”
Information about the Anthropology Club, including dates and times of movie nights and other sponsored events, is best accessed through their Facebook page.
Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology, Spanish and Latin American and Latino studies. ✉ AG851503@wcupa.edu.