The Mail: 3/9-3/16

Not All Grad Students

I write in reference to the article "The Anthropologist" (Books, Jan. 27) a pseudo-obituary for Professor Sidney Mintz of Johns Hopkins. Firstly, I would like to point the one accurate statement the author makes about Sid: Sid did shine his light on anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him, and his work is considered essential to intellectual movements within anthropology and the social sciences.

But when I read this article, I felt offended on his behalf and on behalf of my colleagues. My taking offense at this writer's ignorance about academia and her resentment of students, specifically anthropology graduate students, speaks to an ongoing debate about the place of academics in the community that needs to be put to rest one way or another; I've encountered so many snarky remarks about those inhabiting the "ivory tower," and allusions to the fact that academics do not care about their community and look down on manual or other forms of labor, that my frustration has boiled over and I feel the need to state the facts: Student anthropologists, by definition, study human culture—our job is to observe and give shape to lives, the depths of which cannot or may not be assessed through the lens of conventional power structures.

When the author in one sentence glibly dares to compare Mintz's mother's organizing efforts with the IWW with her own, she also mentions contempt for manual labor among, presumably, grad students, and says that "in all their class analysis, [they] never consider giving their barista a tip." Having worked as a barista, a nanny, a server, and bar back while in grad school, I am beyond annoyed that this author would suggest we are somehow "another class" of human when in fact her life experiences and ours are, if anything, contiguous—studying and working are not mutually exclusive, hon.

How, logically, does class analysis make anthropology students part of another, unidentified class, apparently of entitled jerks? If the author knew anything about anthropology, then she would not have perpetuated a false and insidious stereotype that invalidates and undermines the contributions and personal qualities of academics. Students in our department come from all kinds of backgrounds, educational trajectories, and financial situations—no grad student I know would ever qualify as fulfilling the ridiculous stereotype of the arrogant, pretentious, wealthy, and dismissive academic which somehow persists in Baltimore. The malignant stereotype often perpetuated by those like author is NOT representative of our life-worlds, or our voices.

In particular, in her fondness for Sid, she should realize that his intent as an anthropologist and as a person was to encourage people to live their lives to the fullest, to learn, and to do what good they can while on this earth—not judge others based on misunderstanding or ignorance or blame one's failures on others who are no more privileged than she.

Marieke Wilson


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