ocations as diverse as Connecticut and the Samoan islands provided fertile ground for Skidmore student researchers this year, resulting in nineteen papers presented at professional anthropology and sociology conferences last spring.
|Paradise: Studying in Samoa, anthro major Tim Karis ’01 catches up on his reading assignments.
The students tackled topics close to home, such as an analysis of the recreational and academic use of Skidmore’s North Woods, conducted far-flung research from Israel and Ghana to the Philippines and India, and addressed issues including the civil rights of homosexuals, affirmative action, and trends in mothering. For eight students, much of the year was devoted to writing and refining papers—based on research from independent studies, internships, or programs abroad—for the annual meeting of the Northeastern Anthropological Association in Hartford, Conn.
Michael Ennis-McMillan, assistant professor of anthropology, who counseled his students: “Find some way to make your anthropology public.” And when all eight of his students’ abstracts were accepted, he says, he was “so proud of all of them. I couldn’t ask for a better group. The NEAA is a student-friendly conference, and I wanted my students to participate, both to meet scholars and to contribute.” Skidmore had the largest contingent of students at NEAA this year.
Timothy Karis ’01, author of “Dissension in Paradise: Modernity, Individuality, and the Changing Face of Samoan Religion,” says the presentation was “nerve-wracking” but worthwhile. His panel, which included one other undergraduate, two graduate students, and two professors, dealt with “Religion, Identity, and Change”; his paper, based on a semester in Samoa in 1999, explored how young Samoans’ conversion to evangelical faiths reflects an assertion of individuality that demonstrates a strategic maneuvering between tradition and modernity.
Karis, who hails from Dalton, Mass., says, “I have always had an affinity for the Pacific Islands,” and a School for International Training program made a dream come true. In Samoa he lived primarily with one family and was the recipient of “unbelievable graciousness” and hospitality. Karis says he has “always been an anthropology major—and Skidmore helped confirm that.” When he returned to campus, he built on his research in Samoa to develop his senior thesis and also prepare an abstract for the NEAA meeting.
Ennis-McMillan describes the process: “The students wrote and rewrote their papers. Many were surprised at how much revising they had to do.” He asked the students to consider not only the writing, but whether their data were appropriate and their analyses sound. Karis remembers, “The best lesson that Michael taught us was what to leave out.”
Karis’s paper, a distillation of his senior thesis, wound up winning the NEAA’s prize for the best undergraduate paper at the conference. His abstract will be published in a future issue of the organization’s newsletter.
“All the students were proud that a fellow Skidmore student got the award. Tim was very immersed in anthropology and took this opportunity to become a professional—many of the students took on a more professional demeanor as a result of the conference. It was a great experience for them,” said Ennis-McMillan.
Sociology-anthropology major Rachel Sayko ’01 drew on her study of IV drug users in Hartford, Conn., to complete two papers, one for the NEAA and a second presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS) in Philadelphia, Pa. Sayko, a resident of Berlin, Conn., was a summer intern and assistant at the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford before and after her junior year, which she spent in South Africa and the Netherlands.
As an anthropologist, Sayko focused on eight drug users and the stigma and identity problems they face; as a sociologist, she analyzed quantitative and qualitative data to determine whether IV drug users previously arrested for carrying drug paraphernalia were less likely to participate in a syringe exchange program designed to reduce the transmission of HIV.
The ESS conference featured a number of student panels and a new wrinkle: responses and questions from faculty members of other campuses. H. Mark Ellis, a sociologist at William Paterson University in New Jersey, who was Sayko’s respondent, says, “Rachel’s paper raised important issues of trying to slow the rate of transmission of HIV, and eradicating the stigma so that the constellation of interrelated deviant acts could eventually be dismantled and dissolved. Her paper made my trip to ESS. Skidmore has prepared first-rate methodologists and good theorists who can engage in meaningful policy research.”
A gratified Sayko says, “He’d really read my paper and he questioned me for about twenty minutes. He asked a lot of wider questions about my work, and I liked the opportunity to show him information beyond the paper.”
Says Ennis-McMillan, “This class is really special. We have a Fulbright winner [profiled in this Scope] and many others who demonstrated high achievement. They were impressed by each other and they learned from each other. They succeeded because of their industry, combined with their passion for their work.”
Among the other Skidmore papers at the NEAA and ESS meetings were:
- “Droughts and Deserts: An Analysis of the Rajastani Water Situation in India,” by Jared White ’02
- “Reproductive Health in Ghana: A Political Ecology Perspective of a Periphery Nation,” by Allison Ross ’01
- “Gang Girls, Gun Ownership, and Self-Defense,” by Reagan Flyg ’01
- “Sport: A Catalyst for Violence?” by Jennifer Ballard ’01
- “Environmental Racism: Are You a Target?” by Cassandra Corley ’01
- “Express Yourself, Don’t Repress Yourself: Men’s Emotional Boundaries and the Crisis of Masculinity,” by Jonathan Foss ’01
- “Employed Mothers: Does Family Life Suffer?” by Elizabeth Kitlas ’01
Student participation in these and other conferences is supported by student-opportunity funds from the dean of studies. —AW