Wayétu Moore (M.A. ’19) on Writing Novels and Leading Nonprofits

Moore, Wayeětu (Yoni Levy).jpg

Wayétu Moore is finishing up her master’s degree in the Anthropology program at Teachers College this year. While that will certainly be an exciting accomplishment, not much can compare to the thrills of 2018. Last year, Graywolf Press published Wayétu’s debut novel, She Would Be King, which earned the praise of Time Magazine, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, among others.

We got the chance to ask Wayétu a few questions about her writing, her studies, and her work leading a nonprofit. Read on to learn more about her remarkable projects.

Congratulations on your novel! What has your life been like since the book came out?

Thank you! It feels surreal, frightening, manic, exhausting and beautiful. In the fall I was on the road constantly, and it’s only just slowed down. When I begin to get tired, I remember how much I’ve wanted this over the years. I am grateful.

Why did you decide to write this story?

 My family moved to America when I was 5 years old. Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Liberia outside of my home, and the absence was affecting, especially since I was aware that Liberian history was so closely linked to American history. So when I realized I wanted to be an artist, and began to write, Liberia was one of the first places I went to. It was also a way for me to reconnect with my cultural identity.

You could be totally focused on literature right now, but you’re still studying International and Comparative Education at Teachers College. What keeps you motivated to continue your studies?

Admittedly, it’s been hard to balance my career and an education that seems peripheral to my current trajectory, but I’m at the end of the road and proud that I stuck through. Other than my writing, I run a non-profit that publishes books for underrepresented readers. My non-profit is my bottom line and my true passion, and my time at TC speaks directly to its mission. That keeps me motivated.

Besides the novel and your studies, you’re also leading a nonprofit, One Moore Book. Can you tell us about that project?

While I was in undergrad I worked for an organization named Everybody Wins and I would go in to District of Columbia public schools and facilitate literacy workshops for 3-5thgraders who could not read. What I noticed right away was that there was a disinterest in literature so I began to take them books with characters that looked like them, familiar names, foods, etc. The engagement immediately increased. That experience remained with me when I moved to New York after graduate school in Los Angeles, where I attended USC for my first master’s degree in creative writing. I always had an interest in social entrepreneurship.  As a fiction writer I was navigating the literary canon myself, but knew I wanted to do something on my own. The goal of the company is to provide books to children who rarely see themselves in books. So children of countries with low literacy rates and also underrepresented cultures in the United States. We are distributed through NGOs and Ministries of Education in these countries, and in the US we’re distributed through Scholastic Book Clubs.

Do you have any advice for prospective students who also share your interests in literature and social justice?

Every sector, every profession and almost every industry has its share of injustice, so there will always be a gap that needs to be filled. Even in art. I think sometimes we forget the intersectional nature of art and the social sciences, so I would tell them to pay attention to the instances where the two collide and try to dissect those. There’s power and opportunity there.


Kayum Ahmed (Ph.D. ’19) on Open Societies, the University, and Social Movements

Khayum Ahmed

Kayum Ahmed, a Ph.D. student in the International & Comparative Education program, who now works at the Open Society Foundation.

Last semester, Kayum Ahmed took some time away from his dissertation writing and his work at the Open Society Foundation to talk with the TC Anthropology blog.

Kayum was a Ph.D. student in the International & Comparative Education program, but he also concentrated in Anthropology.

Read the transcript of our conversation below to learn about the work Kayum is doing at the Open Society Foundation, and the research he’s doing about the Rhodes Must Fall movement.

What are you doing in your career right now?

I recently joined the Open Society Foundations and was appointed a divisional director responsible for access to medicines and accountability, within the public health program at OSF.

OSF is a large philanthropic organization started by George Soros, which has a global footprint, and its aim is really to advance social justice and human rights through grantmaking.

That essentially means giving money to civil society organizations and social justice movements, to try to create what Soros refers to as “open societies.”

Can you explain the idea of an open society in more detail?

Soros draws on Karl Popper’s work to describe an open society as one in which there’s free-thinking underscored by individual rights, compared to “closed societies,” which he describes as more authoritarian. But also, problematically, Popper describes closed societies as more “tribal” societies.

So, within this discourse of open and closed societies, I find myself in an organization that politically I can certainly identify with, but also has some challenges in how it defines itself philosophically.

How does this discourse relate to your work?

My primary responsibility is really about taking on big pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of medicines.

I do have some ideological debates with my colleague about whether we should be focused on reducing the cost of healthcare, or making healthcare free, since it is a public good. So I hope to inject a little bit more of… well, I guess it’s seen as radical thinking.

I hope to learn a lot, as I’ve just started this work in philanthropy. We’re really trying to focus on public health as a public good, as a human right, from a social justice lens. And we’re working with people on the ground, grassroots organizations, to assist them and to learn from them in how these struggles should be forged.

What parts of your work feel related to anthropology?

I feel like everything is related to anthropology! In philanthropy they have this idea called “theories of change,” and we use these theories of change as a way of framing discourses that we employ to change the world, or create these open societies.

Within that whole conceptualization of a theory of change, I think about my anthropological training (which is very much ongoing) and how my training has assisted me with critiquing and enhancing these frameworks that are employed within the organization.

Can you give an example of how you make this critique?

So just last week, I was in Bogota to attend an anti-corruption convening led by Open Society. Strangely enough, I noticed that when you apply an anti-corruption framing as a theory of change, all of the countries that you then use as examples happen to be from the global south.

So, using my anthropological critical lens, I ask, “What about shifting the lens that we use to look at anti-corruption from corruption to economic justice?” This could allow us to consider, for example, how the United States has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and that must be inherently corrupt. But if you use an anti-corruption lens, you can’t see that because the high drug prices in the US are legally instituted.

What made you interested in anthropology?

I come from a very strong legal background. My training has thus far predominantly been in law, human rights law, international law, and domestic law. When I applied for the Ph.D. program, my advisor was a sociologist. So, I was thinking about doing a more sociological project.

But once I started doing some reading on the differences between sociology and anthropology, I was inherently attracted to a more anthropological approach. Despite all of anthropology’s own issues and historical challenges, I found it to be a lens that connected me in deeper ways with what was going on in the spaces I was interested in.

What stands out as your favorite professor or class?

I really love Nicholas Limerick’s class on ethnography. He constructed the class in such a way that we learned about methods, the critique of those methods, and by having to draft an application for the Wenner-Gren fellowship. It just connected the dots for me. It allowed us to take advantage of him having been awarded the fellowship, to construct and frame my own thinking.

I didn’t get the Wenner-Gren fellowship, but the application formed the basis of my Spencer fellowship application, which I ended up getting! So I thank Nicholas Limerick for his class, which was the foundational basis for me to approach these applications very practically. But also, once I went into the field for my dissertation research, I found his research training very helpful as well.

Can you tell us about your dissertation?

It’s really about challenging the paradoxical nature of the university as an institution. The university creates the space for empowerment and emancipation, particularly for Black bodies on the margins. But at the same time, it creates spaces that reinforce some of what’s been described as oppressions that many Black students and those on the margins face within these spaces.

So it’s about the paradoxical nature of an institution, one that’s responsible for learning and helping you influence the world, but simultaneously entrenches the epistemic coloniality that’s embedded in the knowledge that we acquire through these institutions.

In some ways, it’s also a personal reflection on my own experience at universities, but more specifically on the work of a radical student movement called #RhodesMustFall, that emerged at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 2015.

#RhodesMustFall influenced the global movement of decolonial scholars and activists at the universities of Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, and now in the Caribbean, and wanted to challenge the epistemic basis of university curricula as a way of trying to change how the university operates.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

One of the most important decisions I made was finding an advisor, Susan Garnett Russell, who was incredibly supportive. She gave me the space to explore stuff that even she was unfamiliar with, but reined me in when I needed to be reined in.

So, developing that relationship — a really solid, trusting relationship — with my advisor was the key to a successful Ph.D. experience. I would say that’s probably even more important to me than choosing a good school. Work with someone who you can learn from, but who you can also challenge, who will be willing and open to those challenges.

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Alumni Feature: Advocating Beyond the Academy with Dr. Jill Koyama

Jill Koyama is an Associate Professor in Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the University of Arizona. Dr. Koyama earned her PhD in Anthropology and Education from Teachers College. Her book, Making Failure Pay: For-Profit Tutoring, High-Stakes Testing, and Public Schools is based on research that she completed while a doctoral student in the Anthropology Program. Recently, we here at the “Anthro Blog” caught up with Dr. Koyama, learning a bit more about the work she completed as a student at TC, as well as her post-doctoral path and current research projects. The following feature is based on an extensive conversation I had with Dr. Koyama a few weeks ago, in which she shared some advice and insights from her time in the academy.


Before coming to Teachers College, Dr. Koyama earned her undergraduate degree in Botany. A self-described “science nerd,” she began her professional career working as an ethnobotanist for Native American tribes on the Olympic Peninsula. She then moved on to work for (and eventually direct) a “Headstart-style” program at a local community college. The students she encountered through this work inspired her to pursue a Masters in education. It was through her first graduate program that she came to Anthropology, and she points to courses and conversations with Professor Patricia Phelan as a key intellectual turning point. “Through that experience, I knew that I wanted to study more Anthropology. At the time, there were only about six programs that were teaching Anthropology and Education together; there are even fewer now.”


Looking to continue her studies, Dr. Koyama enrolled in the doctoral program at Teachers College, explaining, “I felt at the time that there were more anthropologists there doing interesting work than anywhere else.” While she initially intended to pursue questions related to the Asian American community, she was inspired to change her trajectory after completing summer field work with Greta Gibson, who, at the time, was conducting research in California on migrant Mexican students. It was this research, as well as courses completed with Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia García, that set her on a path toward a career as a “public intellectual,” a philosophy that guides her work at the University of Arizona today. Over the course of our conversation, she described mentors who encouraged her to “be engaged with the world” and pursue projects beyond gathering data.


Dr. Koyama’s current scholarship, which continues her work with migrant populations, is intimately linked to this kind of public engagement. She is currently concerned with “How people in really seemingly desperate situations…create and access and utilize social networks that are really resource rich.” Dr. Koyama relishes activity, saying she looks for “What people do and what students do, rather than what they don’t do… In the most constrained situations, people still do things. They make sense of things. They remake things.” In addition to her teaching and research responsibilities, Dr. Koyama writes opinion editorials for various media outlets as a Public Voices Fellow and serves as a volunteer ESL teacher in Tuscon, Arizona. She encourages current students to find similar ways of combining research and practice, saying, “We constantly complain that we’re never at the table, that we’re never at the decision policy making table. One of the things that I’m committed to and that I encourage for emerging scholars is to insert ourselves more in the public conversation.” She praises the University of Arizona, which she says has been immensely supportive of her dedication to advocacy beyond the academy.


Near the end of our conversation, Dr. Koyama gestured toward what she sees as some of the most exciting developments in the field of anthropology, which are informed by the way researchers are able to inhabit new multimodal versions of public space: “Rather than looking at objects or material things as kind of cultural artifacts, which is of the past, [we are now] able to see them as social actors that are making us do things. That’s where my work is going, and I think the field is much more open to that. I also just love all the new ways we look at what kind of data we can have…a lot of my data now is capturing entire threads of Facebook or Twitter or Reddit or Instagram, and it just allows for a much more visual experience, but also different kinds of data collection, which changes what we can do with time. We don’t often capture data over long periods of time, but we can capture threads for a year, you know, in a Facebook group. That kind of stuff is exciting for me.”


Jill Koyama’s book, Making Failure Pay, is available for purchase on Amazon and through the University of Chicago Press. You can access her op eds online through the Public Voices Fellowship project, or find more of her scholarly writing via ResearchGate and Google Scholar. More information on her current research and advocacy can be found through the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the University of Arizona.  


*Corinne Kentor is a first year PhD student in Anthropology and Education.


Yang’s “Cult of Mao”: A Lens for Donald Trump? (Andrew Wortham)


It is becoming quite popular, especially on the left, to compare the Trump administration to various autocratic dictatorships throughout history as a sort of warning for what to fight against.  This  kind of exercise is more galvanizing to the opposition than useful as an analytical tool.  With that important caveat, as I was reading Mayfair Yang’s chapter on the “Cult of Mao,” I could not help but indulging in the comparison, so please bear with me as I think through what Yang’s analysis of Maoist populism might tell us about our current moment.

In part, Yang’s analysis of Mao does not easily map on to contemporary politics, because she demonstrates how Mao was specific to a moment in Chinese history.  Prior to Mao, China had begun the tumultuous process of modernization, where longstanding traditional understandings and practices were rapidly being destroyed.  And yet the promise of modernity had failed to materialize; the standards of Chinese life had not dramatically improved simply because the leaders were engaged in Western science.  Instead, modernity brought China into the folds of international conflict with the invasion of Imperial Japan.  World War II brought mass suffering across the country due to violence, rape and economic destruction, but the traditional cultural practices for dealing with such loss rang hollow. “Compared to the modern military, technological, and democratic power and allure of the West, Chinese tradition seemed hopelessly backward and corrupt, it deserved an early death; however emotional attachment to tradition was difficult to break; it had offered security and stability, as opposed to the destabilizing forces of modernity” (Yang 262).  What made Mao so motivational as a leader was his ability to channel the anger and loss of the collective, while simultaneously symbolizing modernity.

Yang describes the period preceding Mao as a sort of “collective mourning” for the emotional loss of traditional Chinese culture without the collective tools for mediating or dealing with this loss.  She builds off of the work of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Tolok to identify two ways of dealing with loss. The first is in the form of “introjection,” a benign healing process that involves two oral enactments to “swallow” the loss, in the form of eating and talking with others.  The second is “incorporation,” where the body absorbs the loss instead of enacting it.  This means that “the grief that cannot be expressed builds a secret vault within the subject…when the vault is threatened, the phantom of the crypt may come to haunt the keeper of the graveyard, marking strange and incomprehensible signs to him, forcing him to perform unwonted acts, arousing unexpected feelings in him” (Yang 262).  The Maoist cult was the product of a culture that failed to introject its losses, but rather incorporated them.  The collective libido needed a place to flow, and manifested itself into a worship-like obsession with Mao.  This inspired people to defend Mao at any cost, as well as to perform and support actions they would have previously found outrageous.

I am not as convinced by the Freudian projection onto a mass collective like China, but for a moment let’s think about whether this holds any resemblance to the collective psyche of Trump voters.  I am sure that I am not the only one who did not recognize the America Trump described in his inaugural address.  The crime and destruction he articulated seem far less significant than the kind of deep societal turmoil China experience during Japanese occupation.  And yet, many Americans seem to be motivated by this great sense of loss and mourning for what America used to be. The promises of neoliberalism and globalization have not manifested into a more prosperous or egalitarian society; meanwhile many of the previous forms of “introjection,” such as Christianity, are often criticized and diminished as backwards theologies of bigotry.  Throughout the election, I was surprised that a man like Trump could gain support in places like my home state of Texas.  My experience with Texan politics was that conservative voters preferred polite, amiable “good ole boys” to the brash, confrontational “Yankee” politicians (my father’s words).  Perhaps the feeling of loss was incorporated into the conservative psyche, and the “secret vault” is arousing unexpected feelings.  Again, we have not seen the same sort of cultish behaviors evident in Mao’s time, but it remains a framework worth considering.  

*Andrew Wortham is a second year PhD student in Anthropology and Education.  

Book Review: Cheryl Mattingly’s Moral Laboratories (Chris Sanacore)

Cheryl Mattingly’s Moral Laboratories (2014) is an ethnography into the ordinary. Documenting the lives of impoverished members of L.A. County’s African American communities, Mattingly’s book works to reveal the unacknowledged power of the quotidian in its capacity to reshape individuals on small-scale levels, with revelatory effects. While at times she reveals the transformative reorganization of moral selves through mundane activities (such as household chores or a neighborhood soccer match), there are moments of terrible loss and human suffering that present an account of how individuals navigate the complexities of the human condition. Mattingly’s ethnographic triumph succeeds by arguing for a unique anthropological perspective that emphasizes the profound maintenance, experimentation and prescription of moral codes initiated by both the most trivial of activities and the most tragic cases of human loss (p. 9). In its intricate detail of life, death and what remains afterwards, Mattingly constructs a powerful image of individuals cultivating their moral selves to contest and give meaning to their social circumstances.

Mattingly’s first chapter “Experimental Soccer in the Good Life” sets the precedent for how she wants readers to interpret her work, meaning the lives of the participants with whom she engages. It is important to note the distinction made between engage and observe, a more familiar piece of ethnographic terminology. Mattingly was not just an outsider peering into her participants’ lives, but rather was actively engaged with them to the point of close friendship. For over ten years, she attended family dinners, doctor visits, birthdays, and funerals (p. 6). Hence, part of Mattingly’s ethnographic practice is her unique awareness of her role in her participants’ lives where she accounts for her experiences rather than removing herself. Mattingly’s transparent presence functions not as an impediment but rather as an authenticating disclosure substantiating the validity of her participants’ narratives and her analyses of them.

The opening, which focuses on a mother named Tanya and her wheelchair bound son, reflects Mattingly’s aims to limn the transformative nature of seemingly miniscule events. For Tanya, her anxiety over allowing her son to play in a neighborhood soccer match due to her fear of injury induces a reflection upon her values as a mother, her relationship to her son, her local community and the type of person she wants to become (p. 12). Such reflective, psychological processes are what Mattingly coins as moral laboratories which act as “. . . a metaphorical realm in which experiments are conducted in all kinds of places and where participants are . . . researchers or experimenters of their own lives” (p. 16). The way in which Tanya experiments with her values, her past experiences, and her future consequences situates her as an ethical diagnostician, delineating her mental and social conduct in search of a meaningful and morally good life. Thus, Mattingly details the ostensibly insignificant moments where individuals enter a potent state of becoming.

Within this schema of moral work, Mattingly projects a human essence onto the motives of her participants and to the philosophical underpinnings utilized throughout the book. When referring to Tanya and her relationship to her son, Mattingly states, “Her stance of ‘care’ is a manifestation of something very basic to human experience. To be human is to care about who we are, what we do, what happens to us. Existence just is care . . .” (p. 12). Such statements deeply connect to Moral Laboratories’ approach as to how individuals shape their inner-moral configurations. One such example is how Delores, a grandmother and matriarchal figure to a financially struggling family, serves a maternal role to provide a foundation for “moral work” by the way in which she prepares her grandchildren for school and is able to make sense of doctor visits and medical instructions for her grandson with a disability (p. 70). Active processes of care for others and oneself reflect an inherent compassion for existence.

Moral Laboratories explores intimate human moments and their transcendence over time and space to produce new subjectivities in a tumultuous field of political, medical and social conflicts. This intersectional space that forces individuals to mediate between unstable ground and interpersonal relationships is known as life. What Mattingly has accomplished is a view into the ordinary, revealing its capacity for change that cannot be seen from the surface. Moral laboratories posit the ways we are shaped into ourselves and we can begin “. . . unmasking the profoundness that lies beneath the surface of the ordinary (p. 205). This frame is not just a construction of the self but a revelatory concept linking our founding stories to each other. Mattingly puts it perfectly, “We humans simply would not exist individually or collectively without being, at times in our lives, a central ground project for significant others” (p. 204).


*Chris Sanacore is a first year MA student in Anthropology and Education 

Spring Term Updates and Announcements

This past Wednesday, students returned to campus for the spring semester. As we enter the new term, we wanted to provide some updates on what our readers can expect from this blog. We have some exciting changes in the works, as well as a few series that will be introduced in the coming months.

We are moving to a new posting schedule that will allow us to provide profiles, articles, and insights on a regular basis. Beginning next week, you can expect to see a new post on this blog every other Monday, with a few special additions sprinkled throughout the term. Our students will be submitting book reviews, thought pieces, and advice columns geared toward prospective graduate applicants and new members of the department. We will also provide updates and features on various alumni of our Masters and Doctoral programs.

In addition, we will soon kick off two topical series. The first series will feature short posts inspired by movies, television shows, and magazine articles that consider how contemporary anthropologists engage with popular culture. Meanwhile, our second series, entitled “Divided Country,” will use political anthropology to consider the ramifications of narratives of difference brought forth by the recent election and inauguration of Donald Trump.

We welcome any feedback from our readers, and we hope to see your responses in the comments. If there is something you would like to see on the blog, please let us know! Comment below, or send your pitch to cdk2132@tc.columbia.edu under the subject line “TC Anthropology Blog.”

Anthropology Department Welcomes Faculty Candidates to Campus

Last month, the Anthropology Department welcomed four guest speakers to campus as part of the final stage of the search for a new faculty member. Each candidate met with current students and presented a talk inspired by her original ethnographic research. The following summaries were compiled by first year students in the program and provide a brief review of the various events.


Thursday, December 1st: Ilana Gershon

Summary by Miranda Hansen-Hunt, First Year Ph.D Student in Anthropology and Education

Ilana Gershon presented the first talk on Thursday, December 1st. Professor Gershon is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University. She is interested in how new media affects highly charged social tasks, such as “breaking up” or hiring new employees. She has written about how college students use new media to end romantic relationships in her book The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Her current research addresses how new media has changed hiring workshops for the contemporary US workplace.  Her other books include an edited volume, A World of Work: Imagined Manuals for Real Jobs, and No Family Is an Island: Cultural Expertise among Samoans in Diaspora.

Professor Gershon’s talk was entitled “Logged in and Let Down: Hiring Workshops in the Digital Age.” In it, she discussed her recent ethnographic work on the hiring process in San Francisco companies. Her thesis focused on how the standardization of potential hires reduces the individuality of the candidates and can make it more difficult for them to express what it is about their background that makes them especially suitable for a job.

Professor Gershon began her talk by discussing how  the concept of neoliberalism interacts with capitalism to create the kind of free-market pressures currently found in the San Francisco job market. As part of her research, Professor Gershon met with HR representatives, boss’, job seekers, and workshop facilitators. She found that, oftentimes, the HR representatives doing the hiring had been through the same process of job counseling as the job seekers and workshop runners, which resulted in a measure of standardization. Those doing the hiring recalled the standards they had been told to adhere to when they sought out particular jobs, and looked to replicate those same standards within the current group of job seekers. The sort of information provided in the workshops had to be generalized in order to give information that would be helpful to people applying for a range of different positions. What this process of replication leads to, Gershon argued, is the creation of a formulaic “genre repertoire to prove employability” that fails to provide HR representatives with the information they need to properly assess a candidate. The fact that all actors are drawing from the same set of acceptable practices means that all candidates sound similar on paper, and any candidates who provide information in a format that breaks with the genre repertoire risks being rejected for failing to meet the standards. Those who strictly adhere to the standards, on the other hand, risk sounding so similar to the other candidates that they are also rejected. Dr. Gershon expressed her desire to continue exploring the impact that these standards have on job seekers in the free market.


Thursday, December 8th: Ritty Lukose

Summary by Miranda Hansen-Hunt, First Year Ph.D Student in Anthropology and Education

Professor Lukose is Associate Professor at The Gallatin School of New York University. Her teaching and research interests explore culture, politics, and economy as they intersect with discourses and practices of gender across the varied terrain of globalization, especially as they impact contemporary South Asia. As an anthropologist, she has researched and published on education, youth, gender, development, globalization and culture. Professor Lukose has published several book chapters and articles in journals such as Cultural Anthropology, Social History, Social Analysis, and Anthropology, and Education Quarterly among others. Her books include Liberalization’s Children: Gender, Youth and Consumer Citizenship in Globalizing India (Duke, 2009) and a co-edited book, South Asian Feminisms (Duke, 2012).

Professor Lukose’s talk was entitled “Modeling Development: Kerala on the Global Stage.” In it, she followed the rise of the “Kerala Model” for development, which gets its name from an area of India. In India, the Kerala Model is contrasted against the Gujarat Model of development. The Kerala Model invests in social development, whereas the Gujarat Model invests in economic development.

Despite being a mainly remittance based economy with 48% percent of its citizens falling below the extreme poverty line, Kerala has one of the highest rates of literacy and one of the longest life expectancies in all of India. Especially important in this model of development is the economic empowerment of and investment in women. Throughout her research, Professor Lukose tracked how a specific document entitled “Poverty, Unemployment and Development Policy: a Case Study of Selected Issues with Reference to Kerala” began to circulate in the United Nations about the efficacy of the Kerala Model, with the idea that what had proven effective in Kerala could be replicated in other similar circumstances.

The India Human Development Report showed Kerala as one of the top regions in terms of quality of life. That a model which stressed activism and economic redistribution could prove so successful was exciting to many in the United Nations, who looked towards the tactics found in Kerala to plan development projects in other locales. There is not, however, a consensus among Indians that this model has been entirely successful, as many of the people in Kerala continue to live in poverty. Professor Lukose expressed her desire to continue to explore what this model of development means for the larger picture of development in India.


Tuesday, December 13th: Erica Caple James

Summary by Chris Sanacore, First Year MA Student in Anthropology and Education

Professor James is a medical and psychiatric anthropologist and currently serves as an associate professor of Anthropology within MIT’s graduate program for the social sciences. She received her B.A. in anthropology from Princeton University (1992) and, along with a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School (1995), she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University (1998, 2003).

Professor James’ research interests include (but are not limited to) violence, trauma, global health, gender, religion and the democratization process in post-conflict situations. Her work also caters to a regional interest in Haiti, and she continues to work with Haitian immigrants in the United States. Her first book, Democratic Insecurities: Violence Trauma and Intervention in Haiti (2010), follows the psychological trauma of Haitian survivors during the 1991-1994 coup and explores Haiti’s post-conflict transition to democracy. Her second project, Wounds of Charity: Corporate Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Boston, focuses on a critical investigation into Catholic-based and other publicly funded social service organizations that provide health and education programs for Haitian immigrants and refugees.

Professor James’ lecture was an enlightening dive into the politics of charity in Boston, Massachusetts. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics and Michel de Certeau’s notion of the scriptural economy, Professor James detailed an extensive structuring of religious power and logocentric trends which dictate the ways these agencies operate. Her introduction described the challenges Catholic charities must navigate on federal and state levels in order for their religious agencies to successfully and legally provide social services.

Professor James’ research centers on a charity group dedicated to assisting Haitian immigrants. Professor James not only conducted research with this agency but has also acted as a volunteer and has been a part of the social landscape she observed for her work. She notes the way written word is hierarchized within a field of power relations which shape how social workers are able to conduct their services. Thus, documentary procedures in which social workers must take note of all the details of client meetings become a highly valued, scriptural product that is strictly used as the sole means of documenting an official truth of client-worker proceedings. Specifically, Professor James notes maternal and child health education by which charity employees are faced with constraints in terms of what they should document and what they should omit from their interactions with clients. In this juggling of truth, documentation, and the constraints from religious and state regulations, Professor James details how social workers find themselves navigating a nexus of conflicting ideologies and practices.

Professor James also detailed adult education programs for Haitian immigrants. Here too, the power of documented word superseded other categories of validity and educational success for Haitian students. In particular, Professor James explained the way that state regulations require adult education instructors to document “objectives” and other superficial success-related goals which had to be designed by both instructor and student. This became increasingly difficult when not only was it expected that these objectives were uploaded into a computer system but these goals were also quantified into data in which the success or failure to meet these objective demands dictated whether or not the charity group would be able to receive funding in the future.


Thursday, December 15th: Fida Adely

Summary by Bridget Bartolini, Academic Secretary for the Department of Anthropology; Corinne Kentor, first year Ph.D Student in Anthropology and Education; and Chris Sanacore, First Year MA Student in Anthropology and Education

Fida Adely presented the final faculty candidate talk on December 15th. Professor Adely is an Associate Professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Clovis and Hala Salaam Maksoud Chair in Arab Studies. Her primary research site has been Jordan and currently she is completing a book manuscript on the internal labor migration of Jordanian women. Since 2013, she has been an associate editor for Anthropology and Education Quarterly. Selected publications by Dr. Adely include: Gendered Paradoxes: Educating Jordanian Women in Nation, Faith & Progress (University of Chicago Press, 2012); “God Made Beautiful Things”, American Ethnologist (2012); “Educating Women for Development” International Journal for Middle East Studies (2009). Dr. Adely received her Ph.D in 2007 at Teachers College (Columbia University) in Comparative Education and Anthropology.

Professor Adely’s talk focused on how and why women pursue schooling in various parts of Jordan, where she has conducted much of her ethnographic research. The lecture described Professor Adely’s efforts to map domestic migration patterns in order to better understand how moving from a rural environment to an urban center affects academic achievement among Jordanian women. Professor Adely’s talk included several bright anecdotes, including the story of a highly educated woman who entered suddenly into a domestic partnership and found different challenges and opportunities as a married woman.

Throughout her lecture, Professor Adely considered how different forms of schooling reflect the shifting values placed on education in Jordan. She briefly considered the development of private sector “power couples” and discussed how domestic relationships interface with educational achievement. Her lecture reflected many of the dominant themes represented in her book, Gendered Paradoxes, which is based on research she began while pursuing her Ph.D in the Anthropology Department at Teachers College.

Welcoming Our New MA, EdM, and PhD Students!

The Programs in Anthropology at Teachers College are delighted to welcome 13 new graduate students into our department. Below, you can learn a bit more about some of the members of our first year class, many of whom will be joining the blog as contributors in the coming months.

MA Students 

Laura Hones


Laura Hones is an MA student in the Anthropology and Education program. She earned her BA in Anthropology from Illinois Wesleyan University, where she conducted ethnographic research on urban intentional communities. Following her graduation from Illinois Wesleyan University, Laura spent three years working in Chicago Public Schools in partnership with City Year Chicago and SAGA Innovations, an educational non-profit. She is interested in adolescence, gender studies, and the culture of nonprofit organizations.


Christopher Sanacore


Christopher Sanacore graduated from Bennington College with a degree in Educational Linguistics. During his undergraduate studies, he focused on integrating the fields of critical theory, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and anthropology. He has worked as an English language instructor and elementary school assistant in Boston, Massachusetts and was a part of a special projects course on the U.S/Mexico border that brought him to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico alongside students from Bennington College and Williams College. His senior thesis centered around second language acquisition and digital media interactions to help second language learners acquire informal linguistic proficiency. Most recently, Chris served as an Americorps member with City Year in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked as a mathematics instructor for English language learners. He is now working on achieving his Masters in Anthropology and Education with a focus on the intersections between education policy, school violence and pedagogy through a linguistic anthropological lens.


Tizoc Sanchez


Tizoc Sanchez was born with a second name: Fernando. One refers to pre-hispanic Mexican heritage and the other to his Spanish heritage. Being a mixture, or mestizaje, has influenced his approach to life and to research. Tizoc first developed an interest in education while teaching reading and writing skills to adults living in the remote rural zones of Mexico. He later studied literacy pedagogy with a focus on philosophy and educational theory. He has worked as a research assistant, a curriculum developer, and a traveling educator, working primarily with immigrant children. In addition, Tizoc has conducted workshops on nonviolence and has worked as a philosophy teaching assistant. His academic interests concern how people develop in conjunction with their social and natural environments, with a particular emphasis on how moral behavior is shaped by classroom experiences, migration, and family.

Marlee Tavlin


Marlee Tavlin recently graduated from New York University with a double major in Social Work and Classical Civilization-Anthropology. For the past four years, she has been a teaching assistant and co-teacher for The American Museum of Natural History’s Education Department. Her academic interests include urban education, social justice, and using museums as a tool to close the education gap facing NYC’s students.


EdM Students 

Bader Alfarhan


Bader Alfarhan is a first-year Ed.M  student in the Anthropology and Education program within the Department of International and Transcultural Studies. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Kuwait, Bader brings to Teachers College his extensive experience working with international students. Bader earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington-Seattle, where he majored in Anthropology and completed a double minor in Education and Diversity. In his final year at the University of Washington-Seattle, Bader completed a yearlong honors thesis exploring the lived experiences of Kuwaiti and Saudi men studying abroad in Seattle. This research inspired him to pursue graduate work focused on advocating for the inclusion of international students on U.S. university campuses. Bader’s primary research interests include international experiences, higher education, temporary migration, and the training of educators overseas.


Wayétu Moore


Wayétu Moore is a writer/essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the founder of One Moore Book (www.onemoorebook.com), a CBC-member boutique publisher of multicultural children’s books aimed at readers in countries with low literacy rates. She is also the founder of Moore Books Inc., a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that builds bookstores, libraries and reading corners that serve underrepresented groups. Her first bookstore opened in Monrovia, Liberia in 2015. She earned her BA in journalism at Howard University, and an MA in creative writing from the University of Southern California. She is an adjunct instructor at The College of New Rochelle. Wayétu has been featured in The Economist Magazine, NPR and BBC News, among others, for her work in advocacy for diversity in children’s literature. Her novel and memoir are forthcoming with Graywolf Press. Her writing can be found in The Atlantic Magazine, Guernica Magazine, The Rumpus, Gawker, Waxwing Literary Magazine and various other literary journals. Wayétu is currently a Margaret Mead Fellow at Teachers College, where she conducts research on the impact of culturally relative curriculum and learning aids in the elementary classrooms of underrepresented groups.


PhD Students 

Miranda Hansen-Hunt


Miranda Hansen-Hunt is originally from a small town in Connecticut, though she has spent the past nine years in Philadelphia. In 2011, Miranda graduated with a BA in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr and a BA in Religion from Haverford College. She then went on to earn an MS in Education with a speciality in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Miranda is a certified K-6 educator and an ALTA certified language practitioner. After earning her MS, Miranda taught in a variety of school settings throughout Philadelphia and Connecticut. She is currently a PhD student in Anthropology and Education. Her current research interests include discipline and trauma in schools, urban education in the North-East cities, and the “savior complex” in urban education.


Corinne Kentor


Corinne Kentor is a doctoral student in Anthropology and Education. She earned her BA in English from Yale University, where she was a member of the second graduating cohort of Education Studies Scholars. At Yale, Corinne worked as a public relations representative and interviewer for the Undergraduate Admissions Office, positions which brought her into contact with diverse groups of domestic and international applicants. Through fellowships associated with the New Haven Public Schools District, she served as a Spanish-language kindergarten assistant, a playwriting and drama teacher, and a yoga instructor. As an Education Studies Scholar, Corinne conducted research on the politicalization of school administrators serving in southern New Mexico, with a focused lens on the implementation of dual language initiatives. Last year, she also served as a research assistant for the Yale Law School, where she assisted an interdisciplinary committee tasked with reforming graduate grading policies. Corinne’s experiences throughout the New Haven area have heavily influenced her work as a researcher and an educator. Her current research interests include equity and college access, migration and immigration, media and ethics education, and the relationship among schools, politicians, and social justice networks.


Daniel Rudas-Burgos


Daniel Rudas-Burgos is an anthropologist and educator from Bogotá, Colombia.  He is a research associate at Instituto Caro y Cuervo, a government-funded organization dedicated to the study of Colombian literature and linguistics. In addition, he has served as a socio-linguistic lecturer for the Department of Anthropology at Pontifical Xaverian University. Daniel earned his BA in Anthropology at National University of Colombia (2005), and his MA in Education at Pontifical Xaverian University (2011). His past research has focused on out-of-school education among young people in Bogotá, and informal communication practices among civil servants in Cundinamarca, Colombia. Currently, he is completing a doctoral program in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College with the support of a Fulbright scholarship. Daniel’s research interests center around the comprehension of reading and writing as social, cultural, and political practices. He plans to explore how vernacular reading and writing practices can help empower excluded and marginalized social groups and provide key strategies for conflict management.  


Brittany Vaszlavik


Brittany Vaszlavik is a first year doctoral student in Anthropology and Education. She received her BA in Anthropology and English at Bloomsburg University. During that time, she conducted independent research on “College First Year Adjustment,” a project that won first place in Behavior and Social Sciences at the National Collegiate Honors conference. Brittany’s field study methods course was conducted in Rome, Italy where she learned Spelioarcheology. While earning her Master’s degree in Education, Counseling, Student Affairs at Bloomsburg, she continued her research on higher education, focusing on gender, diversity, leadership, and mental health. Brittany has worked with students in higher education through residence life and the Dean of Students office. She is currently working as a Teacher’s Aide in a middle school and teaching a composition course at her local community college. At Teachers College, Brittany hopes to use the lens of Anthropology to continue to study mental health issues related to suicide and violence in the education system.