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Theses and Dissertations

Name:Jennifer Hunsecker
Degree:Ph.D.
Professor:S. Elizabeth Bird
Year:2015
Title:
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Teaching About Race in Introductory Anthropology Courses: An Ethnographic Study

  
Abstract:
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American anthropology has focused on issues related to race from the start of the discipline. From past work designed to categorize humans into henotype-based categories to current work to undo those categorizations, many anthropologists consider race to be one of the most important topics for students to learn. In this dissertation, I use in-depth ethnographic case studies consisting of interviews, observations, and focus groups, to learn about the way in which anthropologists at four institutions of higher education teach the topic to students in their introductory, four-field general anthropology class. I found that anthropologists are committed to sharing anthropological perspectives with the public through teaching, while their students look for engaging and interesting teaching. I discuss the general acceptance by instructors of introductory courses of the idea that race does not have a biological basis in humans but is in fact a social construction; that in general, professors find this topic to be a critical one for students to learn; that there are a variety of successful strategies that can be employed to teach race to students; and that while students grasp the basic message, they remain confused about the social context of race and racism. Additionally, I conducted interviews with experts on the topic of race to provide context for the current anthropological perspective. I conclude that there is more research to be done on the teaching of anthropology, that the anthropological message about race must be stated in a more nuanced way, that the four-field introductory course is valuable and should be preserved, and that anthropology needs to further incorporate racism (the systematic mistreatment of minorities that is built into the social structure of the United States) into the discussion on race. Future research directions include scaling the research up to observe teaching practices across the country, conducting survey research to understand teaching practices and attitudes, further exploring the generalizability of these findings, and testing the effectiveness of teaching methods described herein using pre- and post- tests. Two potential study limitations include the majority White sample and that the study was confined to the American South.