Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology

ChapterV

Minority Students in Anthropology

The questions analyzed in this chapter deal with the experience of the professional as a minority student, whether to advise minority students to enter anthropology, how the field can be made more relevant to minority students and attempt to estimate the number of minority undergraduate and graduate students at the respondent's university.

Question 15 states:

Were your experiences as a student different from those of non-minority students? If so, please tell us in what ways.

Although 21 out of the 37 respondents replied "yes" to this question, only 11 related a clear negative experience. The answers of most of the respondents provided little indication on whether the experience was either positive or negative. The answers to this question are presented in Tables 25 and 26, Appendix C.

A strong theme that emerged was the relationship between student and teacher. Experiences at opposite poles were related. Five of the 37 respondents felt that their professors had expected less of them and did not take them as seriously as non-minority students.

One stated:

I sometimes felt that it was harder for me to flunk out than non-minority students.

Two of the 37 respondents felt that they had been forced to perform twice as well as a non-minority in order to get good grades; for example:

Professors, upon meeting me, often assumed that I was ill-prepared and thus incapable of doing a really outstanding job. I have had two professors actually tell me this in so many words.

There were 7 who complained that they had received special treatment in one way or another. One Black, for example, related that he was not permitted to do research in a White working-class group because of his race. Another person felt that:

Non-minority anthropologists received better counselling and supervision in their careers than minority students.

And finally, 4 respondents complained that they had not had equal access to resources and facilities (fellowships, library privileges, space, etc.) compared to non-minority students.

It is our belief that the committed minority student must have a much better education than the average non-minority student. He must be better trained, not because of having to overcome the stereotypes that people have of him but because of the difficulty of his task. It requires a greater knowledge to utilize these theories and techniques for change than it does to employ them in everyday professional activity because social theories and techniques, such as they are, are already geared to the present socio-political system.

Question 15 relates to the respondent's own experience as a student. Question 24 asks specifically whether the respondent would advise minority students to enter anthropology at the present time. A clear majority (24 of 37) would so advise, although some not so strongly and with qualifications. Seven of the 37 respondents have strong reservations or are deeply critical. Four do not consider ethnic background, but advise students according to their evaluation of the student's interests and ability. These responses are presented in Tables 27, 28 and 29, Appendix C.

Reasons given for advising minorities to enter the discipline seem to reveal a strong feeling that anthropology would benefit by the infusion of new perspectives and broadened understandings. This is felt to be the case particularly with regard to providing a deeper awareness of one's own ethnic group within the discipline. Anthropology is also felt to be a good choice for ethnic minorities in that its underlying philosophy assures respect for one's unique background. It was stated by some that this receptivity toward cultural differences insured that a minority person would face less prejudice in anthropology than in other fields. An Asian who answered "yes" continued in this vein:

These minority students will bring in different viewpoints. I think most of the studies conducted were relatively free of personal bias; however, it is very difficult to rule out cultural bias. Minority anthropologists will have the same handicap but from a different angle, so true cross cultural studies should include cross cultural members working as a team.

Others agreed: "Anthropology needs some new intellectual and cultural blood"; "Yes, for the corrective value"; "Yes, so we can exert influences and thus change some antique notions presently held. I feel anthropology, properly interpreted, has a lot to offer the minority students"; "I believe that minority students in America have a unique role to play in cross cultural psychological, sociological and cultural studies. They can comprise a group of scholars strategically placed to foster greater cross cultural and international understanding"; "It might just have some beneficial impact on the discipline"; "Yes, so that each one can bring widening horizons of approach, interpretation, experience and analysis to the discipline"; "Yes. For someone has to set the balance straight. There is much to be done. There is not time to adopt an intransigent stance or imply that the situation as it exists today is ultimate."

Similarly, it was felt that minorities could provide a deeper awareness of their own ethnic group within the discipline ". . . if they (minorities) should choose to do so . . . would perhaps have advantages in gaining entree and providing insights into their own sub-cultures"; they could "find evidence which categorically contradicts the claims by the majority group about the `laziness,' `inability,' `lack of motivation' of the minority groups. Regarding Indian anthropologists, an American Indian said: "I think they'd often have an easier time explaining to their informants the `whats' and `whys' of their study."

The implication seems to be that the discipline is a good choice for ethnic minorities because its underlying philosophy assures respect for one's unique background. It was stated, for example, that this receptivity toward cultural differences insured that a minority person would face less prejudice in anthropology than in other fields. Another American Indian respondent felt that anthropology offers less of an identity crisis for college-educated Indians. It "is a way in which an educated Indian can return to reservation life without feeling either noble or wasted, and it can provide him or her with a needed worthwhile occupation. A legion of Indian anthropologists could do wonders for Indians (`could,' I said) and yet not loose their own identities." Regarding anthropology, this respondent said: "I think it's now a field with decreasing prejudices and opening possibilities."

On the other hand, 7 who would not advise their students to enter anthropology disagreed sharply with this assessment. They gave as reasons the lack of opportunity for minorities in the discipline and the psychic difficulties faced by minorities in a discipline which seems to subtly portray one's own group as inferior to the Euro-American majority. These feelings were also expressed by the 3 individuals who would advise minorities to enter anthropology, but would do so with reservations. They had tried to make clear the discipline's limitations and had prepared students for difficulties, but still felt that anthropology is a preferred field for minority students. As a Spanish-speaking respondent put it:

I advise minority students who are interested in the subject to take courses in anthropology. If these students have the motivation and capacity, I encourage them to go for their PhD I resent the fact that some pseudoprofessional anthropologists offer anthropology to students as a panacea, their remedy for all the calamities suffered by the minority groups. Anthropology might not be what these students think it is, and when they find out, their disappointment will be great.

An Asian woman advised minority students to enter the discipline because "Our discipline will benefit if they do, but they should be prepared for the difficulty that they will encounter." A Spanish-speaker noted: "A career in anthropology can be particularly exciting and frustrating for a minority person."

Of those who did not encourage students to enter the discipline, one was available for advice to those who had already entered it, and others qualified their negative response with statements like: "unless one can leave (the) country and go to a non-white country"; "not established anthropology, (must) create a new one." Two advised students to take courses in anthropology, but not necessarily to major in it or pursue graduate studies in it.

The potential of anthropology for use in problem solving and developing techniques of planned social change was cited as a rationale for advising students to enter the discipline by 4 respondents, including one who felt anthropology should be entered by minorities only when it is "coupled with some skill, technology . . . that provided a service the people want."

The poor response rate to this question from some ethnic groups makes it difficult to ascertain a correlation between a specific ethnic group and the way professionals advise minority students. Not only do we seem to have a very low response rate from all groups, but certain ethnic groups, i.e., American Indians are grossly underrepresented in the total sample. Our impression of the responses to this question is that, while most minorities who responded advise other minorities to enter anthropology, they do so with a feeling that anthropology has some inherent problems in methodology and theory which increased minority participation would help correct. The Committee senses a feeling of underlying ambivalence and uneasiness on the part of minority anthropologists in a context of a generally positive appraisal of the discipline's potential.

Analysis of the responses to question 24 indicates an interesting correlation between response and sex of the respondent. Out of 17 women responding, 5 would not advise minorities to enter the discipline at a professional level, including 2 who felt that anthropology courses may be beneficial, and one who felt some skill or service must be combined with anthropology. Nine of the women would advise minorities to enter the field. Three of the women respondents were categorized as neutral; that is, they said they made no effort to recruit minorities to the discipline but were more concerned with the qualifications and inclinations of the individual student. The 3 responded to this question in the following way: "I would advise them no different than anyone else. I take into account the interests, hopes and personality of the student"; "It depends on the student"; and

Not necessarily. My "advice" is not so much to enter anthropology. But a more central problem is the gap in "vocational orientation" or, knowing what direction to go in a career. I devote considerable amount of time to this and students may follow paths other than anthropology.

It is interesting to note that virtually all males (with the exception of 2) encourage minorities to enter anthropology, while almost half of the women do not, are neutral, or do not with qualification. It is tempting to speculate that women are more likely to be discriminated against as a group, were it not for the fact that Black women in our sample tend to face fewer barriers to advancement than Black men, in terms of promotions, salaries, etc.

Answers to question 25, "Can you suggest ways in which anthropology can be made more relevant for minority students?" reveal the feeling that anthropology could be made more relevant to minority students by changing some of the goals of the profession and by changing the focus in teaching and training (see Table 30, Appendix C). A frequently mentioned change was the need for a greater emphasis on applied anthropology and change theory in the training of students. One American Indian anthropologist wrote: "Get over the prejudice against applied anthropology; some minority students are not interested in total detachment after their study of a community or group is concluded." Another stated that an important way anthropology could be made more relevant for American Indian students was to "show how change has most often been initiated from forces without, impinging factors on an American Indian group; and concomitantly the need for activism and self-assertion of prideful identity." A Portuguese anthropologist noted that a way anthropology can be used to serve the needs of minority groups is if it "use(s) the model of applied behavioral sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology) to apply knowledge to everyday needs and problems of people." A Spanish-speaking anthropologist felt that "Anthropology should also bring into more realistic perspective processes of acculturation, social problems attached to these processes, (and the) relative stability of cultural values and social-psychological characteristics." Black anthropologists responded that anthropology "needs to deal more with practical problems and with change theory," that it needs to provide "more information on current subjects," and "we must show that what exists in this world today is not ultimate . . . Evils were born and we must hope for and work toward their destruction."

Another change which is needed is that more attention must be paid to American culture and the minority experience in American culture in teaching. Three Asian anthropologists made this point. One stated that, in teaching, anthropologists should "devote more attention in classes, textbooks, etc., to discussion of minorities in the United States; also draw cross-cultural parallels that may illuminate the situation of minorities in our own society." Another noted that more use should be made "of the cultural background of minority students in the United States" as illustrations in lectures and papers. Black anthropologists also mentioned this requirement:

We need to try and use anthropology more in teaching people about themselves . . . (we) need to focus on this culture . . . attempt to understand and change this society . . . if anthropology . . . is only geared to teach Westerners about the exotica of the non-Western world . . . then it is suspect and its demise long overdue.

One spoke of the necessity of "increased availability of research funds for minority students to do field work in industrial nations, including our own, and not necessarily confined to minority areas."

A related and equally prevalent view was that anthropology should play a more prominent role in teaching ethnic minorities about their own background and cultural heritage. Black and American Indian respondents tended to stress the potential use of anthropology in developing positive self-identity for ethnic minorities. An American Indian anthropologist felt that "relevancy can be achieved only if it (anthropology) does not alienate the student from his/her own group." Some Black anthropologists wrote that the profession could be made more relevant for minority students if, as one stated, it would "appreciate their rich, long and substantial (?) cultural heritage; provide a strong anthropology for identity" and that "anthropology is an important field for enabling minority students to explore and identify with their African heritage if this is their desire. This also applies to other minority group students." Another remarked: "In courses and reading material, anthropology can be made more relevant to minority students by emphasizing the cultural content and historical background of (their own groups)." A Spanish-speaking respondent felt:

The minority student needs to regain PERSPECTIVE of his own life, time, personal worth, national and ethnic identity, in contrast with other styles of life and other alternative ways of behavior in diverse societies. . . . Anthropology with its vast field can (and should) re-orient minority problems and express these problems in a more accurate manner, in a far more objective fashion, otherwise credibility and solution will be denied.

Similarly, 4 respondents discussed elitism in anthropological studies, 2 of whom were American Indian respondents who felt this was a crucial problem in terms of relevance. One American Indian wrote:

Stop being elitist and let people know the truth: that anyone with some common sense and perspective has been doing some kind of anthropology since they were old enough to think and that they begin being officially an anthropologist when they start calling themselves by that name! Often there's not much difference between a good informant and his or her anthropologist, except that the informant knows more, so why isn't the informant a professional?

Another stated that anthropology "can be made more real to its constituencies if they are involved in all levels of research dealing with them, and more importantly see the value of the research to them." A Black anthropologist put it this way:

The only way anthropology can become more relevant is that a total new orientation to the subject matter takes place. The types of questions that anthropologists ask are often posed by the elite or government section of the American society. Asking questions from the point of view of the people studied would be a step in the direction of making anthropology more relevant.

If it is possible, in such a small sample, to identify factors that seem to be differentially emphasized by ethnic groups, they seem to be the following: American Indian anthropologists urged more emphasis on problem solving and more involvement and control by minority groups over research conducted on them by anthropologists. This idea was expressed also by an Asian and a Black respondent. Blacks were the only respondents to mention the need for more funding for minorities to pursue graduate training through grants for advanced training and field work. Asians stressed the importance of emphasizing American culture and the minority experience in teaching and the need for more minorities to engage in field work on their own group and other groups. For example, one Asian predicted the coming importance of what he referred to as "in-culture" anthropology, "binocular" anthropology, the comparison of inculture and white anthropology, and "polyocular" anthropology. Spanish-speaking anthropologists as a group seemed to be less critical. Two of the 6 who responded to the question felt there was no problem with anthropology: it is already relevant. As one stated: "Is relevant really the issue? Or is it, how can we interest more minority students to enter anthropology?" Those who felt the need for change, stressed applied anthropology and the development of a minority perspective in teaching and research.

Another theme was the need for a more overt attack on racism by anthropologists, along with the need for more relevant research opportunities for minorities. In this connection, more field work during training and the encouragement of minority participation in community activities as a part of training in the discipline would be helpful.

It is difficult to evaluate the fact that 9 (25%) of the respondents did not answer this question. Whether they felt the question redundant, in that they had already answered it in previous questions (only one individual explicitly referred to a previous answer) or whether they felt that the field is already relevant to minorities, is difficult to say.

With a few exceptions, the general tone of answers to this question, as well as to question 24, seemed to be that anthropology is an attractive and potentially gratifying field to those minorities already in it. There seems to be a strong feeling, however, that the discipline should be more receptive to minority participation in field work, to the use of the minority experience in teaching and to the applied field, and to the explicit use of anthropology for the development of positive self-identity in minority groups.

Finally, question 26 asked the respondent to estimate the number of minority undergraduate and graduate students at his institution who were interested in anthropology. Responses are presented in Table 31, Appendix C. This question seemed most unproductive in that many respondents either made wild guesses or admittedly could not give an estimate of the number of minorities studying anthropology at their institutions. Out of 37 respondents, 10 did not know or gave no answer; one misunderstood the question (apparently, he gave the number of all students interested in the discipline); 4 said the question was not applicable and 2 answered with terms like "many" or "several dozen." Two said there were no undergraduate minorities interested in their field.

The specific responses, when totaled, allow us to estimate the existence of 142-147 minority undergraduates interested in anthropology. With regard to graduate students, again almost half (17 of 36) either did not answer, said it was not applicable or did not know. Three stated there were no minority students interested in anthropology at the graduate level. The remaining 16 respondents estimated approximately 67-71 minorities interested in graduate level anthropology at their institutions.

It is difficult to assess the significance of these figures. If one considers that the Committee only identified the existence of 122 minority anthropologists today, and that a 30% sample of these responded to our questionnaire and identified about 70 minority students in graduate schools, then it follows that there may not be enough minority students in graduate school to significantly increase the number of professionals in future years. If one triples the reported number of 70 to 210 as an estimate of the minority graduate student population and projects a 305%. success rate for completing the PhD, there will only be about 63 students coming out of the present graduate student population to increase or replace the present group of minority professionals. This leads the Committee to suspect that anthropology departments across the country have not been successful. in recruiting minority students into their programs, despite the widespread publicity to the contrary.

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