York students win North American public anthropology contest

Who should be the beneficiaries of publicly funded anthropological research?

That was the question York students in Professor Karl Schmid’s second-year Public Anthropology class addressed in their submissions to the 2010 Public Anthropology Competition – a North America-wide contest involving 4,000 students in 21 schools.

Seven students in Schmid’s class won awards for their op-ed pieces, which debated the ultimate legacy of anthropological research. Their writings focused on the role of publicly funded research conducted by cultural anthropologists and specifically addressed the ethical question: Should these researchers be held publicly accountable for explaining how those they study have benefited from their research?

The award winners are: Nicole Collver, Vanessa Fallone, Fatima Khan, Kate McFeeters, Amanda Mountford, Sardar Saadi and Colin Savoie.

Above: Seven York students are the winners of the 2010 Public Anthropology Competition. From left, Colin Savoie, Nicole Collver, Vanessa Fallone, Kate McFeeters, Amanda Mountford, Fatima Khan and Sardar Saadi

“Anthropology has a principle called ‘Do no harm.'” says Schmid. “Students were asked to think it through and decide if they agreed with a position posed by anthropology Professor Robert Borofsky, director of the Public Anthropology Center in the United States. He asked if there should be a requirement for anthropologists at the end of their research to create a public statement outlining to what extent they have fulfilled the obligations that were laid out at the beginning of their research.”

Students in Schmid’s class had to construct their argument and write it in a non-academic style intended for publication in North American newspapers. The focus of the competition was to improve students’ critical thinking and writing skills.

Left: Karl Schmid

A contract faculty member in the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Schmid encourages his students to enter the competition. His course addresses the role of anthropology in the contemporary world and poses the question: How can anthropology apply its methods and insights to local and global problems of inequality, injustice and human suffering?

Competition award winners were judged by their student contemporaries across North America. Students were also graded separately for the course on the following critieria: a clear expression of the point of the article, persuasiveness, thoughtful organization, clarity and ease of comprehension by non-academic readers and, finally, a polite and respectful tone – as opposed to righteous indignation.