Message from the chair, December 2021
When the fall semester began and I assumed the position of chair, we were cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 would cooperate with our return to campus. Most of our faculty and instructors resumed teaching in person. During the previous academic year, they missed making connections with students in the classroom. Likewise, many of our students longed for an in-person return to our department's vibrant intellectual community. We were all hopeful that cases would trend downwards as vaccination rates rose and safety protocols on campus were implemented. Despite everyone's best efforts, this didn't happen. While Wayne State's campus has been fortunate to avoid any major outbreaks, here we are in mid-December with Michigan ranking at the top of positive case counts nationwide. Instead of approaching the winter 2022 semester with the spirit of optimism that we felt in August, we're now looking ahead with uncertainty toward the looming threat of the omicron variant.
If we've learned one thing as a department this semester, it's that we can survive - and even thrive - with the support of each other and with our willingness to be patient and flexible in adapting to the unsteady circumstances we face. I am honored to assume the leadership of a department that is willing to make the best of (what we hope is) the worst of times. I want to take this opportunity to thank our outgoing chair, Dr. Andrea Sankar, on behalf of myself and the department. Her years of dedicated administrative service cultivated our strong community of scholars and enabled a smooth transition for me this semester.
Rather than becoming consumed by the uncertainty of what's next, this newsletter is a moment for us to reflect back on the semester and appreciate how well we've done navigating our "new normal". To be sure, it hasn't been a glamorous process. But when it comes to producing scholarship, mentoring students, and raising the profile of anthropology at Wayne State (and beyond), we continue to be a forward-thinking, engaged, and innovative department.
By far, the highlight of this semester was when we had the opportunity in September to gather at the Grosscup Museum of Anthropology to celebrate the launch of an exhibit in honor of Professor Emeritus Dr. Guerin Montilus and his career. The opening of "Allada to Detroit: Storytelling through material culture in the African diaspora" was attended by over 70 people, and included remarks from Provost Mark Kornbluh, Associate Dean Claudio Verani, Museum Director Megan McCullen, former students, and family members. The exhibit will be open to the public through 2022.
We were also thrilled to welcome a new archaeologist to our faculty this fall. Dr. Randall (Randy) Haas, assistant professor, joined us from the University of California, Davis. We look forward to learning from the expertise Dr. Haas brings based on his extensive research in the Andes and Sierra Nevada Mountains on forager groups, foodways and gender.
One of the priorities of our faculty this semester was to reinvigorate the intellectual life of the department. Dr. Jessica Robbins led the newly-formed Events and Public Relations Committee. They immediately created a new monthly lecture series for public-facing anthropology called "First Fridays in Anthropology." The three "First Fridays" lectures this term were presented by Dr. Julie Lesnik, Dr. Barry Lyons, and Dr. Randy Haas. The series will continue in 2022. All are welcome to attend the lectures. Keep an eye on the upcoming events.
Our long list of accomplishments during the second half of 2021 reflects our department community's willingness to press on and adapt to the relentless unanticipated changes that seem to be popping up on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Our faculty remain steadfastly committed to applying anthropological knowledge in the service of the major challenges and opportunities that face our world today - from public health, anti-racism, DE&I, and food security issues, to environmental justice, cultural heritage preservation, and user-experience design. It's hard to think of a time in modern history when anthropological perspectives had more relevance and purpose than they do today. If our outstanding alumni job placement record, the rising numbers of applicants to our graduate program, and our strong community partnerships are any indication, anthropology is here to stay in the professional worlds we, and our students, inhabit.
I know that many of us feel like we're at the precipice of pandemic fatigue as we wrap up the fall semester, and so I want to end by giving my heartfelt thanks to the anthropology faculty, staff, and students who persisted throughout this semester. I also want to extend my thanks to all those in our wider alumni and community networks who have generously supported our faculty and students in any way over the past year. I look forward to leading our department out of this pandemic in 2022!
Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year,
Krysta Ryzewski, chair, Department of Anthropology