A New Semester

These are the class rules and motivations I gave my students this semester, borrowed from the good people at KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I thought it would be better to keep things simple and positive, and these sounded a lot better than a list of “don’ts.”  Continue reading

Public Outreach 3: Sharing Anthropology with 8th Graders

My 8th grade class. It’s relevant.

Last week, I spoke with three 8th-grade science classes at the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy in Lynn, Massachusetts. It’s my third visit in two years, and I’ve found my time there to be very well-spent. KIPP is a neat place. The teachers are passionate and believe in their students, who in turn are highly enthusiastic and engaged. On its website, the program mentions that its objective is to help students in under-served communities around the United States “climb the mountain to and through college.” This is accomplished through effective teachers, a lengthened school day and week, and by instilling “a strong culture of achievement.”

One very admirable aspect to their philosophy is that “demographics do not define destiny.” More than 87 percent of KIPP students nationally come from low-income families, but the school feels that this can be overcome through hard work, and they have the data to back this up. “There are no shortcuts,” is one of their school mottos. Good for them.


Some of the fossil casts I brought with me. Except the one on the left. That’s a boy (my son, actually).


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Committee Work and Student Lives

Though many people may not realize it, faculty are usually required by their university to do more than teach. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, which to me is essentially taking ideas that excite me and sharing them with students. In addition to this, faculty usually must also conduct academic research and writing. This is often the activity most valued by the university, though to many people outside of academia this may seem like superfluous activity. The third arena is service, which is usually the least acknowledged of the three primary duties. Service activities can be directed toward one’s department, university, profession, the community, or some other larger population or organization. My university has written into its Mission and Values a commitment to the local urban community and the greater public good.

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Conference Schedule


I’m prepping for the the coming academic year, and going on tour for academic conferences (this must be how Bono feels). I’ve been to Montreal many times, and always enjoyed the beauty of that city. Madison and Portland are new, and I’m looking forward to seeing them for the first time.

• October 22-23, 2011: Hmong Diaspora Studies Institute (Madison, Wisconsin)

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My University

My university, UMass Boston, has released a new promotional video on youtube (featuring a couple of prominent visits by Barack Obama). I’m not really a rah-rah type of person, but I thought it worth sharing because I am proud to be affiliated with my school. Boston once sought to be known as the Athens of America in part because of its commitment to progressive cultural, intellectual, and humanitarian ideals (O’Connor, 2005). The high cluster of many well-known universities certainly helped that perception, even if it never quite reached that goal in reality. As the only public university in the city, I like to think that UMass Boston carries on that tradition by making education more accessible than it would otherwise be (despite the fact that higher education, even public education, is getting more and more expensive).

I like it here. The faculty are committed and the students are diverse. And the location provides a great spot to go for an afternoon walk after teaching all day, where one can look out at the bay and the city skyline and just think.



O’Connor TH. 2005. The Athens of America: Boston, 1825-1845. University of Massachusetts Press. (Link)

Student Research on War, Health, and Biology

With grades submitted earlier this week, the Spring 2011 semester is officially in the books. In my ANTH 324 class, “A Biocultural Approach to War,” students were required to write a literature review paper on the ways that war impacts human biology and health.

In my opinion, research papers are valuable in upper level undergraduate classes because they give students the freedom to pick a topic of their choice, within the boundaries of class goals. While it seems self-evident that war’s effects on biology are negative, this relationship is not always straightforward for every possible outcome variable. Thus, it is necessary to explore the evidence thoroughly.   

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The Sex Ratio at Birth Following Periods of Conflict

Note: this paper was written by UMass Boston undergraduate student Johnny Xu for my Spring 2011 class ANTH 324: “A Biocultural Approach to War.” I asked his permission to post it here. 


Birth Sex Ratio and Infant Mortality: Adaptations or By-products?


1. Introduction

            The purpose of this paper is to provide manifold reasons attempting to explain why the birth sex ratio following war periods tend to rise in favor of males and what this implies in correlation with infant mortality; and, most of all, to answer the following question: is the combination of these findings proposing that this is an adaptive response of the parent to produce the sex with higher survival prospects in the given environment, or is this simply the by-product of environmental forces?


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