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Anthropology concentration to undergo changes

Department will create tracks, provide individual faculty advisors, restructure senior seminar

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Beginning in the 2019-20 academic year, the department will offer seven concentration tracks, including medical and linguistic anthropology.

The Department of Anthropology will add tracks to its concentration and begin implementing changes to the curriculum in the 2019-20 academic year, said Andrew Scherer, associate professor of anthropology and director of undergraduate studies.

The department will also modify its advising structure and create a more unified senior seminar. Students who have already declared an anthropology concentration will be able to choose between the old and new requirements, Scherer said.

These changes follow an external review last year and a review by the College Curriculum Council this year.

The department is set to create seven concentration tracks: general anthropology, socio-cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, anthropological archaeology, biological anthropology and an option to self-design a track, according to Katherine Mason, assistant professor of anthropology.

“There’s so many subfields in anthropology that we can’t cover them all with the tracks,” Mason said. “So we’re kind of picking the main, big, umbrella ones.” Anthropology is a very broad discipline, she added, and some students didn’t see a place for themselves in the previous concentration structure.

“My own personal hope … is that those students of mine who I have lost to other concentrations or really wish (to concentrate) in anthropology … (will) be able to benefit from what I think can be a really good disciplinary basis for things they’re interested in,” Mason said.

The department will also implement a system to pair students with faculty advisors relevant to their interests. Currently, the concentration’s sole advisor is Scherer, who focuses on archaeology and biological anthropology. “Unless they’re doing research that I do … I’m not particularly well-equipped to advise” students on their academic or research opportunities, he said. With the new system, students will be assigned a faculty advisor who will ideally have interest in research that aligns with the students’ interests. “We’re hoping students will have a better advising experience … and (Scherer) won’t be quite as overburdened,” Mason said.

The department is “shifting towards a system that’s more attentive to students’ interests and allows them another element of faculty advisorship and mentorship that wasn’t necessarily formalized before,” said Shira Buchsbaum ’19, a Departmental Undergraduate Group leader for anthropology and former Herald reporter. The pairing of students to advisors “might not line up perfectly … (but) it will be more intentional,” said Colby Parsons ’19, another DUG leader. “It’s a good step.”

Another major change to the concentration is the restructured senior seminar, which Scherer described as a chance to look at what constitutes anthropology. Students in all tracks will be required to take the class. The course will go beyond the history of the discipline, allowing students to take a critical look at the past, present and future of anthropology, Scherer said. “We were very conscious of the idea (that) if we’re going to create these tracks, at the same time we want a singular senior seminar experience,” he said. “So while we simultaneously created these tracks, we actually then reduced the variability of that senior capstone experience.”

Buchsbaum and Parsons responded positively to the changes. With the new tracks, the anthropology degree will have “a little bit more heft to it, … a little bit more gravity,” Buchsbaum said, adding that the changes will offer students a clear-cut path through their studies. Parsons agreed, adding that the medical anthropology track would act as a signal to both students and medical schools that the concentration has relevance to a career in medicine.

The changes fit “with how Brown undergraduates relate to their concentrations,” Scherer said. “This will create a little more transparency in what we actually do with anthropology.”