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Hyatt Visiting As Harman Scholar

Published: November 1, 2012

Susan Hyatt from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is spending her first visit to Southern California this fall as the second Robert C. Harman Applied Anthropology Visiting Scholar in CSULB’s Department of Anthropology.

“I was very honored to be selected,” said Hyatt, an expert in urban anthropology, service learning and ethnographic methods. “It is a very unusual opportunity to visit another university and learn about it. Robert Harman paved a path in applied anthropology and I am proud to follow in his footsteps, if only for a semester. This is an exciting department with lots of interesting things going on.” Hyatt earned her B.A. from Grinnell College in 1976, her M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1980 and her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1996. In the interim years between her M.A. and resuming her studies in anthropology, she worked as a community organizer in Southwest Chicago.

CSULB’s Anthropology Department received a gift from emeritus faculty member Robert Harman several years ago to establish an endowment enabling the department to have a distinguished applied anthropologist serve in residence every other year to teach students in the master’s level Applied Anthropology Program, conduct relevant research and liaison with the campus and Long Beach communities. The goal of the program is to stimulate interest in applied anthropology achievements within the department and on the campus as well as enhance the department’s prestige, add to its reputation and facilitate the recruitment of applied anthropology students.

Hyatt’s responsibilities include teaching, hosting workshops, lecturing to the Long Beach community on why anthropology is important in today’s world and how community residents might collaborate with applied anthropologists for their mutual benefit.

Along with leading a class in applied anthropology for an enrollment of undergraduates and graduates, Hyatt also teaches a graduate-only class on the development of the anthropology of policy, or the use of anthropological insights to analyze policies as cultural documents. “It is a longtime interest of mine to study not just the impact of policy but to understand social documents from an anthropological point of view,” she explained. “What interests me about policy is how neutral and authoritative it can seem. But where did these policies come from and what motivates them?”

Hyatt also will lecture on such topics as “Off the Campus and Into the Community: Teaching for Social Justice,” in which she will discuss the pedagogical benefits of having students perform community-based work. Her second presentation, entitled “We Never Met Strangers; We Met People: Using Anthropology to Explore Histories of Race and Religion in an Indianapolis Neighborhood,” describes a recent collaborative project undertaken with students and former community residents. This research project, titled “The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multiethnic Community in South Indianapolis” tells the story of two groups, Sephardic Jews who came to Indianapolis from what was then the Ottoman Empire in the years around World War I, and African Americans, who migrated from the South.

These two communities lived side-by-side in the same neighborhood from the 1920s up to the 1960s where they shared bonds of friendship and cooperation. The physical landscape of their neighborhood was destroyed long ago by successive waves of development and by the construction of an interstate, but nearly 50 years after the neighborhood dispersed, Hyatt and her students managed to track down former residents and to bring them back together to work on this project.

Susan Hyatt
Susan Hyatt (second from right) with a group of Southsiders after an event at South Calvary Baptist Church.

Samuel G. Freedman, religion columnist from the New York Times, published a story about this project and the community it commemorates in his April 6 column entitled, “Christians and Jews Rediscover Interracial Haven.” Freedman described how, utilizing funds provided by the university and donated to the project by a community fundraising campaign, students collected about 40 oral histories and digitally scanned 400 or so period photographs contributed by community residents. These photographs are available on-line through the IUPUI University Library Digital Scholarship site and will be used in a forthcoming book, scheduled for release in December.

Community outreach is fundamental to Hyatt. “I want my students to work collaboratively with communities, not just in communities,” she said. “What kind of products can academia produce that would be useful to the community? The community makes a good laboratory for training students in ethnographic research. This commitment to outreach meets the mission of the Harman fellowship of collaboration and community-based research.”

She thinks the opportunity to trade information with CSULB will be a “transformative” experience. “I hope this chance for exchange could go both ways,” she said. “I hope to be as changed as any program I may help change at CSULB.”

She leaves for England on a sabbatical following her semester at CSULB where she will research an anti-poverty program from 1970s England that was modeled after the U.S. War on Poverty with its emphasis on the maximum feasible participation of the poor. Hyatt, who is interviewing community organizers and neighborhood residents who participated in those programs on how they assess their impact on British society 40 years later, will return to Indianapolis in August.

She encourages all faculty members to make the same commitment to travel and outreach that she has, if the possibility to do so presents itself. “It’s an exciting opportunity,” she said. “I have been touched by my warm welcome here and by the excitement that the department here feels about my participation. What is there to lose?”