What Students Want

In 2017, I ran for and was elected to student leader positions at the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) and AAA’s newly minted Members’ Programmatic, Advisory, and Advocacy Committee (MPAAC). Why did I do it? Because I am a student and a student member of AAA. Because I have a thousand ideas (some raw, some half-baked, some fully baked) hatching in my head about what I think students want from the discipline and the organization. Because in my first year of grad school a well-intentioned, gnarly old professor summed up life for me in three words—“It’s all political.” My term technically began on the last day of the 2017 Annual Meeting but the build-up started sooner. Over three conference days, I inserted myself (or was hurled) into a milieu of working sessions, a four-hour strategic meeting, and impromptu tête-à- têtes with colleagues, peers, and mentors on the future of the organization and student members. Fervent discussions on long-term strategies, short-term collaborations, individual anxieties, and collective aspirations were flung around like confetti in the wind.

Here is some of what I gathered.

AAA cares what students have to say and they’re showing it

At the 2017 Annual Meeting, Daniel Ginsberg, manager of education, research and professional development at the AAA, and Kim Baker, organizational governance manager, organized the first ever Student Section Leaders Meeting. Seven student leaders attended. The aim of the session was to discuss ways in which the Association might support student members’ professionalization and leadership development.

Brainstorming activity at the 2017 Annual Meeting. Daniel Ginsberg.

Armed with colored post-its and a flip chart, we almost immediately embarked on a classic cluster analysis exercise to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that AAA currently offers its student members. We ended up with eight topical areas of interest:

  • peer networking
  • (career) networking
  • mentoring
  • student member onboarding
  • professionalization
  • opportunities to present research
  • expense
  • international student issues

For each area, we discussed shortcomings, opportunities, and strategies for future implementation. For example, under professionalization, we discussed how a future strategy for the AAA might be to offer workshops on practical skills (InDesign, GIS, usability testing) to complement intellectual rigor.

We need more streamlined communication between AAA sections

Somewhere in between brainstorming new ideas and brain-dumping our frustrations, we discovered that different sections already fulfilled the needs of other sections. For example, the National Association of Student Anthropologists was already positioned to encourage student interaction and activities across subdisciplines. Similarly, NAPA offers mentoring and career development sessions at the AAA for students. This was a classic case of information gap.

We came up with two possible solutions. The first short-term fix is to create an online platform where student leaders across sections can communicate with one another. Baker is working with AAA to set up a student leaders electronic mailing list. Second, we noted that not all sections have student representatives on their boards. Darn shame. Next order of business is to encourage sections to institute student leadership positions on their boards so students are always represented at the table. This will also lead to a more diverse and inclusive student body politic.

The collective voice of student leaders needs to be institutionalized

MPAAC, a 23-member committee, currently has two student leadership positions. This is encouraging news. As one of elected student leaders, I attended their inaugural meeting at the 2017 Annual Meeting. Among the many discussion points was professional development for students, including opportunities for meet-ups, skills workshops, and mentoring sessions. Having just come from the Student Section Leaders Meeting, MPAAC’s shared vision and concerns for student development made me want to break out into a vigorous Bollywood dance sequence. I belonged to two different tribes speaking the same language. If students and discipline veterans share a joint vision of the future of student members, how can we institutionalize this?

Here is one possible course of action:

  1. Section student leaders get more organized. Sections appoint a student leader spokesperson on a rotating basis to compile ideas and comments and shares them with the MPAAC student leaders.
  2. MPAAC student leaders share these talking points with committee members for guidance and integration with other subcommittee agendas.
  3. MPAAC student leaders then forward final comments to the student seat on the AAA executive board who introduces them to the board for deliberation and possible implementation.

If you are a AAA student member, what does this mean for you?

Join a Section. Feel free to shop around. Choose one that piques your interest. Find out what activities they’re planning for the Annual Meeting or during the rest of the year (workshops, book table, podcasts), and volunteer. It’s a great way to make new friends and feel connected to the discipline. The more students a section has, the more it will focus on addressing student needs.

Ask for support. Connect with your section student representative for leads on additional resources you might be able to take advantage of such as student awards, field trips, and workshops during and outside of the annual conference. Make suggestions about how AAA can serve you better.

Run for Office. Mark your calendar for the next round of elections, talk to your section president and submit your candidacy sheet.

Taapsi Ramchandani is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at Syracuse University. She also holds an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse. Her research in Trinidad looks at the creative ways in which citizens interact with their local and national elected representatives to access basic services as well as demand good governance.

To submit contributions to NAPA Section News, please contact contributing editor Briana Nichols ([email protected]).

Cite as: Ramchandani, Taapsi. 2018. “What Students Want.” Anthropology News website, April 13, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.829

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.