Chair's Greetings

by Danilyn Rutherford, Professor and Chair

Five words. That’s all I allow my colleagues to use every time I ask them to contribute to this newsletter. It always includes a column where each of us on the faculty describe our year. Brevity isn’t easy for academics. We tend to be prolix – and to use words like “prolix,” a fancy way of describing the tendency to ramble on and on. Somehow boiling our passions and activities down to five short words brings our lives into focus. It forces us to get more real – to tag the things that have really mattered to us. If we had to agree on five words for what matters to the department, we probably would agree that our students should rank first in the list. I could write a book on why, aside from the tame deer and secret footpaths, our undergraduates and graduate students are what makes UC Santa Cruz a special place. But why ramble? Let me sum it up in five words.

Our students are curious. They read the recommended readings. They attend campus events. They care about facts that are not on the final. They draw connections: between osteology and authority, between cross-cousins and climate change, between our bond with other species and our understandings of what it is to inhabit a social world.

Our students are compassionate. They help their classmates improve their writing skills. They serve as peer advisors to help new majors make their way. They pitch in on behalf of the environment, of labor rights, of gender rights. They care about victims of injustice, here on campus or abroad. They care about one another. In my experience they are friendly, appreciative, polite. They are, in a word, nice.

Our students are committed. But they are not just nice; they are also fierce. This year, they worked hard to master difficult subjects: from French structuralism to the intricacies of French secularism, from Marxism to the ontological turn. They give their all to their studies at the same time they are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. They aren’t afraid of set-backs; they are suckers for a grudge match. They don’t give up.

Our students are collaborative. They work hard together. This year, they worked hard together organizing conferences: from “Matters Out of Place” to “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet” to “Brain, Mind, and Consciousness.” They threw parties, including an annual celebration in our labs for Halloween. They worked hard together on group projects and informal study sessions, in their offices on campus, at coffee houses downtown, and on the benches in front of Social Sciences I.

Our students are creative. They draw new connections: between science fiction and biology, between economics and ethics, between public events and the tiny dramas that make up everyday life. They have an eye for the quirky detail. They write dissertations in new languages; they write undergraduate papers on new themes. They do research projects on topics ranging from donor siblings to happy cows. They design websites and make films; they conjure up interventions. They mix genres, methods, and paradigms; they put old concepts to work in new ways.

It’s not surprising that our undergraduates and graduate students win accolades for their achievements: from the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. But prizes are only part of our story. As part of the RSVP for our year-end celebration, we asked our graduating seniors to tell us what they would do next. Some of our students were terse (the opposite of prolix!): “Work part time and apply to graduate school,” “find a job.” Others offered expansive descriptions of what they hoped to do and why, and how their education in anthropology would help them on the trip. Even as we wish our graduates well in the adventures ahead, we’d like to pause to thank them for what they have given the program: our fabulous students is what makes our job so fulfilling and fun.