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Working Together

Message from the Department Head

I began my new position as department head in August, having served on the faculty since 2006. I am grateful for all of the support and encouragement that my colleagues have shared during what has been a challenging year for faculty, staff, and students at UT and across the country.

Barbara HeathWith the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, UT moved all courses online in the space of a week, implemented travel restrictions, curtailed access to campus labs, the libraries, and other on-campus spaces, cancelled graduation ceremonies, off-campus summer programs and in-person interviews, and began to create the infrastructure for combatting the spread of the disease within our community. These changes, although necessary and prudent, have had a profound effect on research, teaching, and learning. By fall, the department had been transformed both physically and psychically. Staff, with the help of an ad-hoc group of faculty, moved furniture in classrooms and hallways into temporary storage to accommodate social distancing requirements, posted signage, and purchased and distributed PPE; instructors pioneered new classroom technologies that allow us to teach more effectively in this new pandemic world; and we collectively reached out to undergraduate and graduate students to find out how they were coping and what they needed to succeed.

Despite being physically distant, in some ways this year the department has become a more cooperative and caring place, facing head-on not only the coronavirus pandemic, but the need for each of us to work together to address the social pandemic of racism and to strengthen the department as an equitable learning community based on respect. The recent losses of our colleagues Rebecca Klenk, a cultural anthropologist, and Randy Pearce, a dentist and forensic odontologist, have also brought many of us together to mourn their passing.

Even in the midst of these extraordinary challenges, we continue our mission of research, teaching, and service. The department is undergoing a period of rapid growth. The addition of undergraduate concentrations in forensics and disasters, displacement, and human rights (DDHR), coupled with broader societal factors that underscore the relevance of anthropological knowledge in today’s world, have resulted in an impressive 47.5% increase in majors over the last two years. Growing numbers of students are also taking advantage of the DDHR graduate certificate.

Members of the department continue to shine as award-winning educators and nationally and internationally-recognized student achievers, leaders within the profession, and recipients of prestigious research grants. I have summarized many of our accomplishments below, and others appear in greater detail in the online version of the newsletter, but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few.

  • Professor Dawnie Steadman was named a Chancellor’s Professor, the highest lifetime honor that can be accorded to a member of the faculty, which recognizes extraordinary scholarly accomplishment as well as a record of excellence in teaching and service to the university. She also received the Dr. William M. Bass Professorship in the Department of Anthropology and the Forensic Anthropology Center, established through a generous donation by Joseph M. and Rebecca H. Haskins. The award is based on excellence in research and teaching in the field of forensic anthropology.
  • Associate Professor Ben Auerbach’s co-edited volume, The Evolutionary Biology of the Human Pelvis: An Integrative Approach, was published by Cambridge University Press.
  • Professor Alex Bentley, Associate Professors Garriy Shteynberg (psychology), and Jonathan Garthoff (philosophy), received the College of Arts and Sciences Award for Interdisciplinary Collaborative Scholarship and Research in 2019 for their work on collective learning and its impact on collective identities, social norms, and strategic cooperation.
  • Hera Jay Brown (’18) was named a 2020 Rhodes Scholar.
  • Clare Remy was one of five UT undergraduate students to receive a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

Looking ahead, 2022 will mark the department’s 75th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of granting graduate degrees. Soon we will begin planning ways to celebrate these important milestones. If you have stories that you would like to share of your time at UT, I would love to hear from you. I look forward to welcoming you back to campus post-pandemic. Until then, please stay safe and well.

Barbara Heath
Professor and Head
Department of Anthropology