New Visions of Community Engagement: Charting New Roles for Anthropologists and Universities

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2010


Linda Bennett (University of Memphis) and Linda Whiteford (University of South Florida)


Kathryn Kozaitis (Georgia State University), Linda Whiteford and Susan Greenbaum (University of South Florida), Stan Hyland and Linda Bennett (University of Memphis), Miguel Vasquez (Northern Arizona University)


Anthropology is alive and well—even thriving—within higher education’s movement to meaningfully engage with the wider community. In this session, we explore the role of the ‘new’ university through engagement and anthropology. Presenters will provide case studies of the transformations within their universities as the universities take engagement as a central strategy to help them become more directly connected with the needs of the communities in which they reside. Features of university engagement to be addressed include but are not limited to: historical context, continuity over time, role of social interaction, leadership, tenure and promotion, substance and outcomes, rewards, capacity, challenges and prospects for the future.

Summary of Discussion

The papers reflected different experiences within four universities, Georgia State University in Atlanta, University of South Florida in Tampa, University of Memphis in Memphis, and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In each, however, major efforts are underway to better connect the academic life of the universities with the social, cultural, educational, political, and economics challenges of their communities; anthropology and anthropologists are taking a visible lead in each of these contexts. The session, with the inclusion of other programs that were not able to take part, is being developed as a book project.

The Engaged University: Social Transformations and Cultural Practices
Kathryn Kozaitis (Georgia State University)
At the turn of the 21st century universities project unconventional interest in public responsibility. To classifications such as Ivy League, research, teaching, urban, and land grant universities we have added “engaged.” Federally-funded initiatives support university-community partnerships, “diversity hires” and recruits are on the rise, faculty conduct community outreach, and service learning complements the classroom. This paper examines the emergence of the engaged university, the nature and direction of academic engagement, and the extent to which higher education engages within its own community to promote and reward the cultural diversity that sustains it.

University-Based Community Engagement in 2010 and Beyond: Anthropology Widens the Scope
Linda Whiteford and Susan Greenbaum (University of South Florida)
As the ideas behind community engagement become both more widespread and embedded in university life, the opportunities and challenges change. This paper is a case study of the evolution of community engagement at the University of South Florida, identifying the failures, barriers, successes and changes that shape the current and projected future of community engagement at USF. Our intent is to provide some history and a roadmap of the process – at least at one site – and to layout our expectations for the future of community engagement at USF.

Moving from the Margins to the Core: Institutional Change within the University in Metropolitan Area Beset with Issue of Poverty and Race
Stan Hyland and Linda Bennett (University of Memphis)
This paper examines the role that academic and practitioner anthropologists have played over three decades in building a knowledge base to address the vexing and exceedingly tough issues of poverty and race in the Mid-South region. Driven by community-based research, participatory action research, and a dynamic anthropology practicum program, a cascade of events led to a substantial reorganization of the University of Memphis. These changes advanced the institutionalization of anthropology as a key leader in the University’s redefinition of its mission through engaged scholarship. In the process, the University of Memphis has been transformed into an engaged metropolitan research university.

New Visions of Community Engagement: Charting New Roles for Anthropologists and Universities
Miguel Vasquez (Northern Arizona University)
Northern Arizona University has been recognized for “changing the terms of engagement” between Native people and Anthropology. As part of a larger campus focus on sustainability, this reputation is thriving—continuing past collaborations with tribal and community groups and moving into new areas with local schools, low-income weatherization, campus food services, and civic engagement with the wider community.