The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Let’s talk about race, maybe: Teaching about identity as a tool to engage future scientists


1Anthropology, University of Illinois, 2Psychology, University of Illinois

March 28, 2015 8:15, Grand Ballroom E/F/G Add to calendar

Anthropologists and social scientists can have a positive effect on the education of high school students—engaging them with social science methodologies to examine the meaning of race and its place in science—in a way that creates an inclusive scientific environment. Social science approaches to race and identity, including ethnographies, participant observations, and survey design, create opportunities for students to engage with their racial, ethnic, and gender identities. This process of cultivating knowledge and awareness about diversity is consistent with a cultural competence approach; research suggests this helps individuals understand experiences different from their own, and the broader context in which historical, social, and cultural factors influence the practice of science. In a summer science camp for high school girls, we sought to expose students (n = 60) to discussions of race and identity. Using a grounded theory, participant-observation approach, we implemented our teaching materials over two summers from one that used body image and ancestry as the entry point through which to discuss race, to one that subsequently introduced the ecological systems approach and racial health disparities. We found that the students in our sample were unprepared to discuss race, as they had largely learned these discussions were dangerous. Modifications in our second year created more opportunities for students to speak from personal experience and engage with topics on race. Implications for best practices in teaching anthropology at K-12 and higher ed levels will be discussed. Suggestions will also be provided for collaborating across social science disciplines.

This research was supported by a University of Illinois Campus Research Board Seed Grant.