In the Department of Anthropology at American University, our collective mission is to do public anthropology in the service of social justice. Our faculty and students work against racism, sexism, environmental degradation, speciesism, social discriminations, class oppression, forced community displacements, and much else. We marshal the professional rigor, the tools and methods, and the theoretical perspectives of anthropology to contribute to real progressive change in the world.
These are terrifying and outraging times in the US and around the globe. White supremacy, genocidal state violence, ethnic hatred, and the COVID-19 pandemic, ravage African American Communities resulting in people, such as George Floyd and Freddie Gray, being killed. These are also terrible times for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as racist and ethno-animosity-driven violence and destruction plague their lives. In our department, you will find students and faculty who stand in outraged solidarity and take action with the Black Lives Matter movement, the African American Community, and AAPI communities. In our department, there is strong support for recent racial justice statements issued by many professional anthropology associations, including this statement from the Association of Black Anthropologists.
Our students and faculty understand that African American, AAPI, Native and Indigenous American, LGBTQ+, and many other communities are brutalized by violence, terror, pain, and demise—and that resistance to and defiance of these horrors is essential. You will also find among us students and faculty who help us understand the historical depth and roots of today’s genocidal crises and systemic white supremacy as well as various modes of resistance to them across the centuries.
While our anthropology serves social justice and human rights initiatives around the globe, faculty and students work hard to reflexively and critically examine our own department practices. Students and faculty actively work to support each other to make our community one that is guided and governed by principles of social equality and fairness.
These are dire times with deep roots in our collective past. Our department continues its social justice work and its training of the next generation of political action anthropologists. If you are interested in learning more about our undergraduate major and minor, our graduate programs, or our public research we would love to hear from you.
Daniel O. Sayers
Professor and former chair
Do you have a desire to expose social problems and pursue justice? The MA in Public Anthropology from American University is for students like you with a passion for inspiring change in the world around them. Our students explore culture, power, and history in everyday life while sharpening their skills in critical inquiry, problem solving, and public communication for careers in public service, community organizing, and social advocacy.
- Watch 20 Years Since 9/11: What Do We Do Now?, a two-panel event held by AU's anthropology and history departments and Historians for Peace and Diplomacy.
- David Vine wrote two op-eds, "After 20 years of destruction, the US has a moral obligation to let in 1 million Afghan refugees," for Business Insider, and "Why the US Is Trapped in "Endless War" for Big Think.
- PhD student Delande Justinvil recently contribued to "US museums hold the remains of thousands of Black people" and "Collective Statement Concerning the Possession and Unethical Use of Remains"
- Scholarship to Change the World: New Books in Public Anthropology: see video with C. Anne Claus, Rebecca Gibson, Manissa Maharawal, Siobhán McGuirk, Adrienne Pine, Kareem Rabie, David Vine, and Buck Woodard on topics ranging from coral reef conservation in Japan, to evictions in San Francisco, to market forces in the West Bank, to the human cost of US military interventions across the world.
- Catch the video of our Book Talk on The Properties of Perpetual Light with internationally renowned Indigenous author/lawyer/activist Julian Aguon.
- David Vine addresses critical questions about US war culture and speaks about insights found in his recently published book in an interview with Truthout.
- Adrienne Pine co-edited "Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry."
- Anthropology students and faculty worked with AU Museum to create Plans to Prosper You: Reflections of Black Resistance and Resilience in Montgomery County’s Potomac River Valley.
- The HARCC Collection developed via the Craft of Anthropology course documents River Road African communities founded during the Reconstruction Era.
- Report Finds at Least 37 Million People Displaced by Post-9/11 US Wars in David Vine's research.
- Read about PhD candidate Aaron Howe's ethnography project in Making DC’s Homeless People Count.
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Anthropology PhD candidate Delande Justinvil is on a mission to protect Black burial grounds.
As a biocultural anthropologist, Delande researches the grounds and their history, analyzes remains from at-risk burials, and he advocates for their protection at both local and federal levels. During his time at AU, he helped curate the museum’s 2019 exhibition Plans to Prosper You, collaborated with the Society of Black Archaeologists, and conducted dissertation research on recently discovered Black burials in Georgetown.
What Delande finds most special about AU is the graduate student community. “Even with respect to my doctoral research, it was my friend Shannon Clark who in my first semester here really listened to what I wanted to do and connected me to the dedicated members of DC’s Historic Preservation Office. My colleagues and I show up for each other in ways that reflect how centering care and compassion as an ethical practice can be equally, if not more, rigorous than our respective — and brilliant — scholarly pursuits.”
Delande also praises Dr. Malini Ranganathan and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC):
They have produced regular thought-provoking programming that deeply engages antiracist, feminist, and decolonial conversations both within and beyond the walls of the academy in ways that help me rethink and revise the critical approaches in my own work. In my eyes, the ARPC has really become somewhat of an intellectual anchor and integral component of the AU community.