Teaching Introduction to Anthropology at the National University of Samoa, 2012. 

Teaching Introduction to Anthropology at the National University of Samoa, 2012. 

I start each of my classes by telling students about my course goals and a brief list of “ten things this professor loves.” Both of these lists communicate to students that I am interested in learning as process––one in which I expect students to be partners in cultivating an inclusive, trusting environment where it is okay to take intellectual risks. Anthropological tools, informed by the idea that anthropology “makes the strange familiar, and the familiar strange,” help us to create this inclusivity. My pedagogical methods, therefore, emphasize student voices, experiential learning, and mentorship.

In each of my classes, I use social media to foreground student voices. In my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course, I require students to tweet observations from their everyday lives that relate to the course materials using a class hashtag. When we read about food insecurity among Latinas in the United States, I asked students to compose a tweet about food in their own lives. One student tweeted “Coming from a Latino family, my parents also faced the shame of having to use food stamps” while another tweeted “I applied for SNAP over the summer because I didn't have enough food. Went through 3 weeks of waiting to get a monthly $16.” These tweets sparked conversation about the invisibility of food insecurity among college students, inspiring a few students to organize a campus-based awareness campaign about student hunger that led to the creation of a dining hall-based meal donation program.

Visiting B Street Living Museum with Anthropology of Food students, 2014.

In addition to highlighting students’ voices, social media also creates new points of contact between students. For example, we live tweet the film, Ongka’s Big Moka, which allows students to ask each other why Ongka would collect so many pigs, only to give them away. After this screening, we watched a montage of hip hop videos that featured performers pouring champagne out––that is, not drinking it. This contrast made Ongka’s choice to give away the pigs make sense as a corollary to why hip hop performers might pour champagne on stage. I also take my students outside the classroom to enhance experiential learning. For example, in my Good Food course, when students read about freeganism (e.g., people who choose to minimize participation in the conventional economy by recovery food that is free and vegan) we practiced “dumpster diving” as we walked through the streets of the college. At the end of the semester, students wrote manifestos creating a social platform on food justice. One student, wearing a garbage bag as a cape during his presentation, used Zizek to examine how the American cultural obsession with nutrition comes at the cost of attention to food consumerism and increases waste.

Finally, in my upper level seminar classes, I design assignments in an incremental fashion, providing mentoring on the dilemmas of research and writing throughout the semester. In my methods course, students read about a method and then practiced it the following week. By the end of the semester, one student had written an ethnographic analysis of a Latino serving clinic as well as a policy brief that she distributed to the clinic leadership––as she had interviewed both patients and providers while participating and observing in the clinic. After graduating, she was hired as a community liaison to help uninsured families navigate free insurance provisions in Oregon.

In sum, my teaching values diverse perspectives and in my courses this diversity helps to reveal the positionality that we each carry into the classroom. In this way, teaching anthropology, through in-depth explorations of local and cross-cultural ethnographic material, is revelatory. Through discussion, reading and research, students come to an awareness of human diversity and begin to develop the critical skills to contextualize, and engage, that diversity.