Research, Teaching, and Community

I just started a new research project! The idea is to learn more about how multigenerational Latinx families collaborate to help keep everyone in the family’s body healthy. And it’s personal. For the first time, I see my own family as my primary stakeholders, closely followed by my friends and community here in Oakland. And even though I’ve never done research so close to home before, I am realizing it’s not a totally new experience either. Because this is how I try to teach.

Like many educational anthropologists (a category I sometimes place myself in), I have been significantly influenced by the work on “Funds of Knowledge.” One of the ways that has filtered into my regular course design is that I design courses to try and ensure that some of the contexts (like “young” parenthood or chronically ill parents, legal status negotiations in families with recent immigrants, balancing work and school) that are regularly classed as “barriers” are instead treated as practical knowledge that can be leveraged as educational resources (insights into distributions of care work for family members, institutional negotiations of legal status, entrepreneurship). Each school is different, each class is different, but by working in inquiry driven assignments, I can create opportunities to encourage students to think about who their “stakeholders” are.

I turned to anthropology after starting my career working in direct service with the Latinx community where I grew up in (Maryland side of the DC metropolitan area). I had recognized myself falling into some of the common pitfalls of that work (in short, the ways I was sustaining rather than dismantling some pernicious aspects of racism through white saviourism). But even as I learned how to critique my own non-profit practices from anthropology, I didn’t see – at least at first – some of the ways I was distancing myself from accountability in my daily work. First and foremost, I have been insulated by the special status of “academia” (both as a researcher and a professor) in a way I never was as a facilitator of after-school programs, health coordinator, and case-worker.

As I have become more aware of that privilege of that insulation (if we take privilege to refer to actively sustaining a system in order to benefit from inequality), I have begun looking for ways out. The effort to assess my teaching in relation to where students come from (and the funds of knowledge they bring with them), was the first step. And this research project is one more. I’m afraid of screwing up and of seeing the impact of that in the lives of people I care about, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the kind of anthropologist I want to become.

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