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IU Northwest alumna spearheads national anthropology awareness campaign

When Florida’s governor recently attacked liberal arts education, a 2007 grad launched a noble response that is gaining momentum


Photo provided
IU Northwest graduate Charlotte Noble conducts research in the field.

When Florida Governor Rick Scott took shots at anthropology majors recently while arguing that more funds should be devoted to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines at the expense of liberal arts, one anthropology scholar and Indiana University Northwest graduate didn’t get mad, she got smart.

Rather than voice her dismay about Scott’s assertion that, “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state . . . I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees,” IU Northwest alumna Charlotte Noble said, “Thank you.”

While the Web was blowing up with the disgruntled liberal arts community defending its disciplines, the 2007 sociology grad decided that if folks like the governor weren’t aware of the importance and value of anthropologists, it was because those in the field haven’t done a good job of educating others. Instead of a launching a counter-attack, Noble thanked Scott for shining a spotlight on the need to educate folks about the contributions of anthropologists.

Currently a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, Noble’s roots are in Lake Station. It was at the IU Northwest campus where her love of anthropology first began.

“Anthropology needs something that communicates to the everyday person,” she said.

So Noble posed the question, “What is anthropology?” to the cyber community. By the next morning, she was scouring a nine-page document filled with astonishing accounts of the impact of her colleagues’ work.

Working into the wee hours of the morning, Noble summed up the responses into an innovative new media presentation that has been tweeted, forwarded, liked, and blogged about to the tune of more than 48,000 hits within one week. View the presentation at http://prezi.com/vmvomt3sj3fd/this-is-anthropology/.

Noble said that she never imagined her presentation would garner so much support and praise. Although she stops short of acknowledging that she may have sparked a movement, she is indeed proud to capitalize in a positive way on the spotlight Scott has shone on anthropology.

IU Northwest Associate Professor of Anthropology Bob Mucci, Ph.D., heard about the controversy and was thrilled to find out it was none other than Noble, a previous star student, who was leading the charge from South Florida, near the heart of the controversy.

“What she did in this presentation is really show how anthropology really fits into all these other things – many of which are things the governor said we should be doing instead of anthropology,” Mucci said.

Nobles creatively illustrates a multitude of areas - from disaster preparedness and healthcare delivery to educational reforms and reducing the incidence of social ills - in which anthropologists use the methods and theories they have learned to contribute substantively to society.

In his remarks, Scott mentioned that college students need to focus all of their time and attention on the STEM degrees that will secure jobs. While Scott and the rest of America might not see a multitude of want ads asking for “anthropologists,” Noble and Mucci say the opportunities are definitely there.

“Anthropologists aren’t hired as anthropologists,” Noble said. “They are hired as qualitative researchers and social researchers, (among others).  We tend not to attach this title of anthropologist to what we do. I don’t think that even the people who hire us necessarily know that they are hiring an anthropologist.”

In this way, Noble said, the job pool for an anthropologist can be even greater than for other majors.

“It’s up to us to recognize that we fit that position and that’s where the awareness campaign comes in,” she said. “We should be proud to say we are anthropologists and that we offer these skills.”

Mucci noted that a company like Apple, for instance, is perhaps driven more by product desire than by superior computers. Tapping into that desire by way of expert marketing and a keen sense of human behavior is key to the success of STEM-related firms. Anthropologists contribute to that body of knowledge, Mucci said.

“People don’t buy automobiles because they are well-engineered,” Mucci offered as one example. “They buy them because they have been designed to meet their psychological, cultural egos.”

Noble said that she and her colleagues would continue to hone the response to Scott with research and information that will back their claims that anthropology is indeed important.

“We aren't just arguing for our ‘worth’ though anecdotal vignettes -- though that's been one fairly public face of it,” she said. “We intend to support our arguments with data. Anthropology is, after all, a science, regardless of whether or not Governor Scott recognizes it as one.”

To stay informed about the campaign as it develops, follow Noble’s “This is Anthropology” Facebook page.

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Media Contact

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications
981-4358
erikrose@iun.edu

Charles Sheid
Office of Marketing and Communications
980-6802
ccsheid@iun.edu

Related Links

For background on the controversy, click here

For Charlotte Noble's presentation, click here

IU Northwest Department of Sociology and Anthropology