The Setha M. Low Engaged Anthropology award honors individual anthropologists (or multi-disciplinary groups or organizations with at least one anthropologist) or projects which have demonstrated a deep commitment to social justice and community engagement by applying anthropology to effectively address a pressing issue facing people and the planet. This year, the nominations committee selected two award recipients and two honorable mentions. These four honorees demonstrate how anthropologists can mobilize their disciplinary training in solidarity with communities to serve social justice aims.
Thick Descriptions – Suzette (Felton) Chang
Suzette (Felton) Chang is the founder and CEO of Thick Descriptions, a nonprofit organization engaging in a range of relevant programs inspired by key anthropological tenets including ethical observation and interpretation, positionality, understanding communities, and acting upon one’s commitments. A key component of this model includes partnering with local educational institutions and community-based organizations. One program, “s.t.e.A.m Learning Journeys” focuses on providing relevant learning experiences for youth in the natural and social sciences, emphasizing the unique perspectives of anthropology, and partnering with a range of community partner organizations. Participating students work together to identify and find ways to redress social injustice. Another program, “Elephant in the Room – Unboxed,” facilitates opportunities for dialogue around ‘difficult’ issues, curated for the particular context of Oklahoma. Suzette’s work highlights her positionality in a specific context of “Being Black in a Red State.” Chang has been a trailblazer in mobilizing networks of support to amplify her anthropologically-centered work with limited resources or institutional support.
University of Denver Just Wages Project – Dr. Rebecca Galemba
The University of Denver (DU) Just Wages Project is a model of engaged anthropology through its ongoing partnership with community organizations, focus on the perspectives and needs of communities, and multidisciplinary approach to social inequities. Rebecca Galemba began the project after asking El Centro Humunitario, Denver’s worker center, how an anthropologist and her students could support their work with undocumented workers. She developed expertise on wage theft as she worked alongside community partners to combine research, policy advocacy, student training, and activism to advance immigrant and workers’ rights in Colorado. The project also engages students, as researchers, activists, and authors, while transparently attuning to positionality and critical reflexivity. Furthermore, Dr. Galemba has collaborated on various forms of writing (policy briefs, op-eds, blogs) with these diverse entities, highlighting her long-term, engaged, approach to this work. Her forthcoming book, Laboring for Justice: The Fight Against Wage Theft in an American City (Stanford 2023) reflects on the project and includes a chapter co-written with students and other activists. She integrates a range of engaged anthropological methodologies in her work, which serves as a model for other anthropologists interested in bridging their content area expertise with advocacy for social change.
Urban Ecosystems Project – Dr. Katherine Richardson Bruna
The Urban Ecosystems Project is a compelling example of engaged anthropology through its ongoing focus on science learning among middle schools in urban Des Moines in partnership with multiple educational institutions and entities. Through long-term engagement with local communities, Dr. Richardson Bruna highlights the role of educational anthropological approaches for educational equity. The innovative project certainly has had a wide impact on the teachers, principals, students, and institutions who have participated, as evidenced by the many letters of support provided as part of the application package. The students who have engaged in science learning through the program are also provided with some funding to go to college, demonstrating broader equity goals in the approach to the work. Using a relational approach, Dr. Richardson Bruna has been able to partner with a range of stakeholders in significant ways.
Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) – Dr. Julie Maldonado and Dr. Betsy Taylor
Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) is a multidimensional, place-centered project focused on the interconnectedness of humans and the environment. This engaged anthropologically-informed consultancy considers environmental justice from a range of perspectives including storytelling, land and revenues, climate resilience, and water collaborations. The ethos of the consultancy emphasizes how collaboration, multidisciplinarity, and solidarity are central to social change and social justice, based on long-term ethnographic engagement on the part of cultural anthropologists. The collaborators have created a wonderful consultancy that provides a range of opportunities for advocacy, policymaking, and story sharing for broader social justice goals.