Following on from my earlier post, this is a preliminary list of three ways we can utilize our existing expertise and institutional strengths as anthropologists, specifically our existing roles as researchers and teachers in universities and colleges. Importantly, these are extensions and tweakings of the work we already do, so are accessible to those who might not be able to engage in overtly political work. I’m thinking of people like myself who are non-citizens on visas, but equally can apply to those who are worried about a backlash from conservative employers.
I’m hoping to make these are accessible to anthropologists who are working in all kinds of positions: including administrative/support roles, contingent faculty, non-tenured faculty, postdocs, and grad students. The emphasis is on working with your institution, whether that be a liberal arts college, a public university, a private research university, a community college, etc., to make use of resources and expertise that might already exist.
As an anthropologist who studies the epistemic cultures of social scientists, including how universities in the US and South America function as institutions, I firmly believe that our professional structures and values are not fixed and can change. Moreover, having both studied and worked with/as a university administrator, I would argue that there are more opportunities for working with other staff and faculty on our campuses than we may realize. Many university support staff and administrators are, after all, people with PhDs who just didn’t get tenure track jobs.
It’s important to note that much of this kind of work is already being done by faculty of color on top of, or as an extension of, their existing teaching, service, and research. Therefore, there is a moral imperative to change our own professional structures, to allow this work to be recognized as a part of our professional obligations and thus to be rewarded.
In terms of how to make these discipline-wide priorities, however, the impetus needs to come from the top: from the AAA, and more prestigious and well-funded universities. This is particularly important if we want to change norms so that, for instance, writing for non-academic audiences is counted towards tenure review and taught as a component of graduate education.
Teaching anthropology to non-majors as a way of fighting racism and inequality
I feel very strongly that some of the most important outreach work we can do is our teaching to non-anthropology majors. The freshman classes, the required core classes, the classes that are filled with future economists, journalists, school teachers, doctors, bankers, and computer engineers, who are possibly only going to take one single class in their whole career that explicitly discusses race or colonialism, or questions the idea of modernity as progress. The ones who don’t want to be there, but need to hear it the most. They are our captive audience.
One. Add to our list of teaching resources, ways to teach non-majors in intro classes. Particularly how to teach white and conservative students who are likely to be resistant to having their ideas challenged.
Two. Such classes are often seen as less-prestigious or interesting to teach, and are given to contingent or junior faculty. Within our own institutional settings and networks, we should begin to explicitly recognize the importance of teaching these classes, and reward those who teach them.
Using existing resources to support students who may be at risk
Building on Melissa Harris-Perry’s comments at the AAA about supporting students we already work with, especially students of color and young women of color.
One. Educate yourself on the support services are already available at your institution for students experiencing micro and macro-aggressions, and mental health issues. You might not be able to help a student yourself – both because you don’t have the expertise to deal with mental health issues, and because you don’t have time – but you can help them find other people on campus who can.
- E.g., there might be multiple different offices that help students, faculty, or employees who have experienced racism or gender discrimination. It can be confusing and difficulty to figure out who you should report incidents to, or how your students can access support. Faculty and staff may be the purview of HR, students might have to go through student services, grad students might be expected to go through another office, and so on. Websites are often confusing, but if you can do a bit of research ahead of time – including just picking up a phone and asking someone to explain the bureaucracy of it to you directly – you’ll be ready if you do encounter a student in one of your classes who appears to be in need of help.
Two. Educate yourself on available academic and professional opportunities that are ‘opt-in’, and be proactive about telling students of color, low-income, and first generation students they should apply for them.
- E.g., I work in an office that provides research grants to undergrads, and closely with another office that helps students apply for external scholarships like Rhodes, Fulbright, etc. Students of color, low-income students, and first generation students too often count themselves out of these kinds of opportunities or don’t know about them at all. But all students are significantly more likely to take advantage of our grants and advising if a faculty member has told them to come talk to us. Even something as simple as telling a student “Hey, your work is awesome. Have you ever considered applying for a Fulbright? Go set up an appointment today with X to find out more about what it would involve.” and then checking in with them next week to see if they did.
Three. Consider helping create a training course, set of workshops, or similar resources for faculty on how to deal with micro-aggressions in the classroom. Reaching out to other faculty and to administrators to see if such training already exists, and if not, if you can help develop and promote it.
- It’s easy to find a way to talk about race and confront racism in a humanities or social science class. But particularly post-election, colleagues in other disciplines like engineering or math might be less able to handle incidents that arise in their classrooms.
- You can bring not only your expertise as an anthropologist, but your credibility as a non-administrator. Faculty will always pay more attention to another faculty member than to a non-faculty administrator or staff member. Administrators who are already trying to set such training programs up will likely appreciate your support.
Public opinion work, as professionals: reaching non-student audiences
Writing opinion pieces for national and local magazines and newspapers. Making explicit use of our ability as anthropologists to critique and contextualize what is currently happening. I see there being two distinct audiences for this kind of outreach work right now, that would require different approaches. These are blunt categories, but think about it in terms of writing for Trump supporters and writing for Hillary supporters. The former might involve anthropologists who are working in regions that are very pro-Trump writing for local papers. While the latter involves writing for audiences that consider themselves to be liberal – NPR, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Times – and in essence challenging the implicit racism and privilege of white liberal readers who don’t consider themselves to be the problem.
One. Reach out to colleagues in other departments that have expertise on working with the media and writing for the media. E.g., if you have a school of journalism or communication studies, or your English department has someone who teaches creative non-fiction, see if they are willing to give you some tips before you start.
Two. Non-academic writing needs to be institutionally supported so that non-tenured faculty will not be penalized for spending time on this. Strategies for convincing your colleagues and Deans that public outreach work should count as part of your professional duties:
- Already tenured faculty working within their departments and in conversation with their Deans/Provosts should take the lead, rather than grad students or non-tenure track faculty. Aim to reach a department-wide agreement that this can count as service work in existing tenure-review or job-application calculations.
- Draw on precedents set by other disciplines, to expand what counts as professional output. I.e., in political science, law, economics etc it is already common for faculty to write op-eds, work with governmental or NGO organizations, and have this recognized as part of their professional work. The NSF actively encourages (and in many grants, requires) public outreach (or ‘broader impact’, as they refer to it) to be a component of STEM research projects. Faculty in creative disciplines (theater, English, music) produce work that goes beyond academic papers and monographs.
Three. Proactively work with your institution’s public relations department or similar, to get ahead of any potential backlash.
- There is almost certainly someone on your campus whose job is to come up with press releases and stories for a blog, newsletter, the front page of your institution’s website, etc. Faculty getting local or national exposure makes for a good news story, so they are likely to be excited about you wanting to do this kind of work.
- If you are concerned that your institution is very conservative, establishing a friendly relationship with someone in the PR department ahead of time can help you figure out if indeed your fears about a backlash are warranted and then have someone on your side later.
These ideas are just my way of getting the conversation started. I’d love to hear from other people, either via this blog or privately, about your experiences in your own institutions. Particularly those of you working in parts of the US that voted for Trump, who find yourself working and living in colleges or towns where this work is both most needed and also more risky for you as individuals. And, for instance, if there is any way that other anthropologists such as myself who are working in places like Chicago can provide you with resources and assistance, reach out!