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Welcome from the Chair

In the Department of Anthropology at American University, our collective mission is to do public anthropology in the service of social justice. Our faculty and students work against racism, sexism, environmental degradation, speciesism, social discriminations, class oppression, forced community displacements, and much else. We marshal the professional rigor, the tools and methods, and the theoretical perspectives of anthropology to contribute to real progressive change in the world.

These are terrifying and outraging times in the US and around the globe. White supremacy, genocidal state violence, ethnic hatred, and the COVID-19 pandemic, ravage African American Communities resulting in people, such as George Floyd and Freddie Gray, being killed. These are also terrible times for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as racist and ethno-animosity-driven violence and destruction plague their lives. In our department, you will find students and faculty who stand in outraged solidarity and take action with the Black Lives Matter movement, the African American Community, and AAPI communities. In our department, there is strong support for recent racial justice statements issued by many professional anthropology associations, including this statement from the Association of Black Anthropologists.

Our students and faculty understand that African American, AAPI, Native and Indigenous American, LGBTQ+, and many other communities are brutalized by violence, terror, pain, and demise—and that resistance to and defiance of these horrors is essential. You will also find among us students and faculty who help us understand the historical depth and roots of today’s genocidal crises and systemic white supremacy as well as various modes of resistance to them across the centuries.

While our anthropology serves social justice and human rights initiatives around the globe, faculty and students work hard to reflexively and critically examine our own department practices. Students and faculty actively work to support each other to make our community one that is guided and governed by principles of social equality and fairness.

These are dire times with deep roots in our collective past. Our department continues its social justice work and its training of the next generation of political action anthropologists. If you are interested in learning more about our undergraduate major and minor, our graduate programs, or our public research we would love to hear from you.

Rachel Watkins

Daniel O. Sayers
Professor and former chair

Inside the Public Anthropology Program


Do you have a desire to expose social problems and pursue justice? The MA in Public Anthropology from American University is for students like you with a passion for inspiring change in the world around them. Our students explore culture, power, and history in everyday life while sharpening their skills in critical inquiry, problem solving, and public communication for careers in public service, community organizing, and social advocacy.  

MA in Public Anthropology


Award winner Johnee Wilson

Department Spotlight ·

CRGC Students Make Impressive Showing at University Award Ceremony

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Applications now open for summer field school: Ecuador Fieldwork in Anthropological Methods.

See PhD candidate Heba Ghannam the Middle East Institute's 2022 Arab Barometer Report: Attitudes and Trends toward Gender.

Hear prof. Dan Sayers in the Ideas podcast: The Marrow Nature: A Case for the Wetlands.

PhD candidate Maya S. Kearney is the recipient of the 2022 AAA Dissertation Fellowship for Historically Underrepresented Persons in Anthropology.

William Leap spoke with the Hollywood Reporter about his research into queer historical linguistics and the importance of inclusive language when discussing reproductive rights.

Becca Peixotto was featured in American Magazine.


Delande Justinvil

PhD Candidate, AnthropologyDelande Jusinvil, AU Anthropology

Anthropology PhD candidate Delande Justinvil is on a mission to protect Black burial grounds.

As a biocultural anthropologist, Delande researches the grounds and their history, analyzes remains from at-risk burials, and he advocates for their protection at both local and federal levels. During his time at AU, he helped curate the museum’s 2019 exhibition Plans to Prosper You, collaborated with the Society of Black Archaeologists, and conducted dissertation research on recently discovered Black burials in Georgetown. 

What Delande finds most special about AU is the graduate student community. “Even with respect to my doctoral research, it was my friend Shannon Clark who in my first semester here really listened to what I wanted to do and connected me to the dedicated members of DC’s Historic Preservation Office. My colleagues and I show up for each other in ways that reflect how centering care and compassion as an ethical practice can be equally, if not more, rigorous than our respective — and brilliant — scholarly pursuits.”

Delande also praises Dr. Malini Ranganathan and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC):

They have produced regular thought-provoking programming that deeply engages antiracist, feminist, and decolonial conversations both within and beyond the walls of the academy in ways that help me rethink and revise the critical approaches in my own work. In my eyes, the ARPC has really become somewhat of an intellectual anchor and integral component of the AU community.