Ruixue Peng (MA ’18) supports UN’s South-South Cooperation


Earlier this year, Ruixue Peng graduated with her master’s degree from the Anthropology & Education program at Teachers College. Now she’s working with the United Nations here in New York City, but she took some time to catch up with us. Read on for more about her work at the UN and her research at TC!

Where are you working now?

Right now I’m a consultant for this very specific office in UNICEF, called South-South Cooperation. The general idea is cooperation, without any politics, and assistance between all the developing countries in the world. So it’s like a supplement to the typical North-South coordination in the world.  It’s mutual help.

I can give you an example of what we do. Colombia wanted help with their early childhood education, and we happened to know that Cuba had very good practices in that area. We matched them up, introduced the people to each other. We build connections like this, for studies, visits, conferences, and generally sharing knowledge.

What is your personal role?

UNICEF is going to implement a new agenda, called the Young People’s Agenda. It’s focused on helping young people and adolescents in the range of 15 to 24 years, helping them with education and employment problems. My work is to strengthen the Young People’s Agenda in South-South Cooperation. So I’m doing some research trying to look for potential partnerships and funding resources, and also organizing knowledge exchange about the best practices.

What parts of your work are related to anthropology?

It’s a lot! We have lots of data sharing and knowledge exchange. For example the first assignment I did was called ‘country consultation.’ Basically we did interviews with our country offices, and we got these people talking about how their work is related to South-South Cooperation. I asked questions, took the notes, and by the end I came up with a report. It said what their good practices were, and how they could be replicated in other countries.

What was the most valuable part of your experience at TC?

I really appreciated the curiosity from all the people I met in the Anthropology & Education program. it doesn’t matter if it’s a professor or a student, everyone has this curiosity about life in general. Everyone wants to know more about the things beyond their field. Everyone I met would keep talking about every perspective on life. I think that’s really valuable.

Who was your favorite professor? What were your favorite classes?

Every class was really difficult, but also fun!  My favorite professor is Carol Benson because she’s the type of person who really lights up the whole room. She really gives you lots of assistance. My favorite class was the first one I took with her, Literacy & International Development. It was my first class in the United States, so it was very difficult at the beginning. But she was very patient and she helped me go through all the terms and how the classroom is organized here, which I think was very helpful for an international student.

Why did you decide to do the Anthropology & Education program?

I think it’s associated with my initial ideas, after I visited a village in southwest China, where they speak an indigenous language. I noticed kids who are suffering from not having access to a good education there. When sociologists are doing analysis or research, they’re just analyzing the numbers. They’re not necessarily analyzing what went wrong with the system. I want to spend more time talking to the kids, getting to know their lives. Then, that’s what I actually did for my thesis.

Can you tell us more about your master’s thesis?

My thesis was about mother tongue education in this area of southwest China called Liangshan, home to the Yi people, one of China’s ethnic minority groups. They have about a million people who speak their own indigenous language, even though Mandarin is a dominant language there. The government was really pushing them to study Mandarin first, but the dropout rate was pretty high. So they asked what went wrong and figured out that it might be language. Kids don’t understand Mandarin, the first class they have in school.

So, ten years ago, the government implemented an indigenous language program. You can see the numbers, the enrollment rate is increasing. But parents’ motivation is not to help kids keep their mother tongue. The parents want them to go to the college. On the college entrance exam, you get additional points if you’re coming from the mother tongue language program.

When I talked to local teachers and observed classrooms, I could see people really struggling. You can see some growth in the numbers over the last ten years, but teachers said they spent lots of time even for this slight improvement. After work, they have to persuade the parents to take this program. That’s why they offer the extra points for the college entrance exam, otherwise parents would all put their kids in the Mandarin programs.

Do you have any advice for students who share your interests?

It’s actually very useful to have a social science background. I’m in this division called Data Research and Policy, with lots of data people there. Every time that I mention I’m an anthropology person, they’re very surprised. They say, “We need a person like you in our division. We always analyze the data, but we need someone to tell us the narratives behind the data. Where did this data come from? How can we explain the data better?”

What research or projects are you interested in exploring for the future?

One thing I’m really interested in right now is just for my personal curiosity. I noticed lots of people my age are making progress in life, but facing anxiety in their career and relationships. They’re living by themselves, figuring out how to find a partner or a job they are passionate about. They’re often stressed and confused. Technology is really reshaping our lifestyles. The way young people right now is really different from the past. Lots of people feel they are not achieving their full potential or are falling behind. I want to see how our generation is coping with this dilemma. How will we leverage the development of technology as a force of change?


Are you a prospective student interested in doing work and research similar to Ruixue’s? Consider applying to the TC’s Anthropology & Education program!

Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.



TC Spotlights Anthropology Student Paola Muñoz Rojas

Paola Muñoz Rojas, who is working towards her master’s degree in Anthropology & Education, is currently featured on the Teachers College website. The story highlights her powerful activism and meaningful research.

Check out an excerpt below, and read the full piece at the TC Newsroom website.

At TC, Paola is pursuing a master’s degree in Anthropology & Education. Even as she holds down three jobs to support herself and her studies, she also continues to work for broader awareness and understanding of Latinx and first-generation student issues.

“College is just so overwhelming for students — especially first-generation students — and it can be very isolating and intimidating. I want to create a support network that alleviates that additional stress for students and provides a community.”

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 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 (, 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.

Resistance and power in rural China – Andrew Wortham

I left my junior year studying abroad in Delhi convinced that economics was the key to understanding all of the world’s problems. I had studied with an Indian micro-economist at Delhi University, and he had taken me to field sites in Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. During these trips we sat down with families and organizations, often spending the whole weekend collecting data. We normally began each field visit by trying to collect quantitative information about income and daily expenses, costs of school and family population.  However more interesting descriptions emerged from people about the discrepancies of how policies were intended and what was being enacted.  For example, we asked about the amount of money people received from the government employment schemes, but people told us about the performances they had to do to get the money.  Or we tried to get data on school enrollment and attendance, but students told us about the hours of self study while their teachers chewed paan and read the newspaper. When I returned to the University of Texas, economics as a discipline did not seem to value the qualitative aspects of research. Instead, I was supposed to generate  macro data that could be expressed in quantities and analyzed through econometric formulas. I was told that if I wanted to be an economist, I would be better off just taking math courses rather than courses that would help me understand  more about life in rural India. 

In this time of confusion,, I stumbled across a professor in the anthropology department, Heather Hindman, who studies development in Nepal. We began to chat about our various research interests and immediately connected. We talked about qualitative research, traveling to rural towns, and learning about the on-the-ground impacts of development initiatives. I began working with her closely on designing my senior research project to look at the role of education in the Indian state of Sikkim. I began thinking about the relationship between people and the state, power, and the ways in which people might resist normative educational institutions like schools.  

These questions framed the next two years of my life in rural Yunnan, where I worked as  a teaching fellow with the nonprofit Teach for China (TFC). As part of the Teach for All network, TFC optimistically believes that new graduates from China and the United States can solve the complex problems of education inequality between China’s urban and rural schools. I was placed in a village outside of Tengchong, about two hours away from the Burmese-Chinese border. As a teacher my focus became a group of rowdy boys in my sixth grade English class. Both my best friends and my nemeses, they would test the boundaries of school by bringing both dead and living animals to class and turning anything and everything into a weapon.  Why did these boys work so actively to disrupt and resist school?  

In the hope of returning to this village, I enrolled in Columbia’s Teachers College to learn the research skills and theoretical frameworks that might help me better understand students at my school. The coursework in the anthropology department has been extremely useful in helping me frame my questions and work towards getting back to the field. In Professor de Wolfe’s ethnographic methods course this semester, we are actually practicing methodology every single week.  Despite a larger ethnographic project that we have to turn in as a final paper for her class, she regularly gives us interactive mini-assignments. Through these weekly assignments, we are able to practice the skills we need to conduct research, get insightful, detailed feedback from Professor de Wolfe and take time to speak with  our classmates about our ideas and observations. Anthropology at TC of Columbia also has a strong foundation in teaching social theory, which I find to be necessary for re-thinking common sense problems with schooling or development. In Professor Varenne’s course I am pushed to reassess what I meant by the word “education.” He regularly assigns fascinating ethnographies that complicate and redefine what schooling is. I have also gained a great deal from Professor Limerick’s Anthropology of Power course, which has provided an incredible reading list for developing a  framework to study many of the power dynamics that I have seen in my own research.

This summer (2016), I hope to return to Yunnan to do fieldwork for my independent research project. After a year of thinking about, writing, and discussing proposals with peers, my research questions have become more articulate and meaningful. I am looking forward to writing up my findings and getting meaningful feedback on my work through the master’s/doctoral student colloquium so that I can continue and expand this project for when I apply to doctoral programs.  

*Andrew Wortham is a first year M.A. student in Anthropology.

Embodiment and Identity Formation in Boarding Schools – Molly Sardella

I joined the Programs in Anthropology and Education in the fall of 2015 in order to conduct research on the links between identity formation, individual well-being, and environments where “forms of knowledge” are produced. My interest in knowledge production grew out of a project undertaken while working on my MA in Anthropology at Binghamton University(2009-2011). For my MA thesis, I looked at pedagogy and the creation of training policies and procedures among UN peacekeepers. Through this project, I began to think about the importance of different types of educational practices on the lives of people within various environments, and about how institutions can be simultaneously constraining and productive in learning and the shaping of identities.  

My curiosity about boarding schools as institutions and locations of identity formation began when I accepted a full time teaching position within one. I quickly began to notice something that appeared peculiar to me. The school had a very clear “philosophy” about what made someone a good student and a proper citizen, and life at the school, whether it be in the classroom, dormitory, athletic facilities, or elsewhere, appeared to be tailored to create an insular community of values and behaviors tied to that philosophy. Wanting to understand what was happening around me and the impact of such an environment on the people living and operating within it, I drew upon my background in anthropology to begin conducting participant observation. I was particularly interested in boarding schools as institutions and locations of identity production and formation. For one year, I conducted observations, compiled field notes, and became involved in as many parts of campus life as possible.

At Teachers College, I have continued to utilize the ethnographic material collected during the previous year, and I am pursuing further fieldwork and supplemental research on boarding schools. My goal is to complete a thorough project about the ways that the environment of a boarding school constrains and shapes student lives. I will be delving into student behavior, conceptions of self/identity, and embodiment, and how each of these components of lived experience are tied to the structures, rules, and philosophy of a particular school. While the majority of my previous work and research has focused on student experiences while they are physically present in boarding schools, I also plan to conduct future fieldwork among recent graduates. The goals of this seemingly “supplemental” research is to compare the way students operate and experience life within the school and outside of it, as well as to assess the potential long-term impact of attending a boarding school on the lives of students.

Students who attend boarding schools are often viewed as members of the “elite.” While it is true that the majority of these young men and women come from wealthy families, a focus solely on social class and the privilege required to attend a boarding school can mask the very real, often unpleasant ways that boarding schools constrain and shape student lives. I believe it is important to understand the impact of boarding schools on the bodies, identities, and behaviors of students, partially because of the ways people associate boarding schools with privilege and status. Many families aspire to send their son or daughter to private boarding schools, out of a belief that such schools offer their children a “better education,” or more opportunities in life. Some parents will go into considerable debt in order to finance private education. Unfortunately, the impact of this type of school on the current lives of students, including their sense of self and their physical health, is usually not taken into account. Perhaps this is due to a societal assumption that a private or more extensive education will be beneficial to a person in every possible way, lumping together beliefs concerning schooling, future happiness, and well-being.

As previously mentioned, it is my assertion that boarding schools actually exist with the express purpose of “molding” young people – to shape them into a particular type of person. The entire structure of the school – the routines, the rules, the physical layout, the relationships between faculty and students – exists to create a group of young people that embodies and lives out the philosophy of the school itself. This is important for people to realize, before they make the decision of whether or not to send their child to a boarding school. It is also problematic and can lead to trauma and suffering for students who disagree with or are uncomfortable with the type of community the school is attempting to integrate them into. This can take a toll on students emotionally and physically and may have repercussions for their health and happiness beyond their time within the school itself.


*Molly Sardella is currently a student pursuing her EdM within the Anthropology and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She earned her MA in Anthropology and MAT in Social Studies Education from Binghamton University and obtained her New York State Teaching Certificate in 2012.