What Anthropology Taught Me

Just last month, I received the news that I’d passed comps. This was huge news for me and a real achievement to finish off my college career. The real glory moment of Kenyon, though, was finding my major. I came to Kenyon, as many of us do, with the intention of being an English major. Upon not getting into an English class, however, I took a spot in the last possible class I had any shred of an interest in: Introduction to Biological Anthropology. As the professor signed the paper, I vividly remember asking him how “sciency” the course would be.The course, and the department as a whole, exceeded my expectations. The kinds of relationships I’ve fostered within the anthropology department are the kinds which Kenyon uses to try to sell itself to incoming students. I have watched professor’s pets, listened to their stories, and performed individual research with them. During my sophomore year, I even go the chance to travel to San Francisco to present a poster I created with two other students.

My professors like to say that very few of us who major in anthropology will actually work in the field for a living. However, that does not mean that we’ll never use what we’ve learned in our day to day life. On the contrary, being an Anthropology major has taught me new ways of looking at a range of things in life. I’ve never looked at things so critically as I have in anthropology, while at the same time approaching things from a holistic and humane perspective.

I’m not sure where my career path will take me, but I believe that anthropology has shaped me to work in a multitude of fields. It has prepared me to seek individual perspectives on topics and to understand culture and why we do what we do through a variety of lenses. I’ve never looked at myself more critically, either. Anthropology has allowed me to understand my personal bias and world view. I’ve learned what this means and what I can do to work with and against these aspects of myself.Of course, I’ve been drilled with theories, many of which, particularly the older ones, are troublesome. Anthropology has not always been an ideal or perfect field, but it strives to do better. I won’t say I wasn’t disheartened by stories of problematic fieldwork, but at the end of the day, I believe modern anthropology has a position of importance in this world. Something we talked a lot about in my comps was the idea of the anthropologist as an advocate for those studied. This wasn’t necessarily universally agreed on, but I’m drawn to the idea of using the position you are in to help others, and I think that anthropology has that power.

The most important thing (in my opinion) that anthropology tries to do is teach us all that no matter where you’re from or what you do, you are human. That is a message, I think, that we need now more than ever. It may sound ridiculous, not to imagine that everyone in the world is a human being. However, the dehumanization of minority groups is a huge reason that people in positions of power act to perpetuate structural violence. Because if you see someone else as a human, with the same needs and desires as you, how can you deny them access to fundamental rights?

Anthropology looks beyond simply geography in an important way, one which, had President Trump taken a course the field, would underline the idiocracy of his immigration executive order. People and their practices are diverse in any situation, and hundreds of millions of people seeking refuge are not acting as a singular force to be feared.

Anthropology makes you realize that we are all equal in a way that no other field can. I think now, in an uncertain world and country, is the time for anthropology.Image Credit: Reagan Neviska, Bruce Hardy