Fueling the Intellectual Spark

Natasha Buck, Class of 2015

I fell in love with Anthropology at Berkeley City Community College, where it was the only class I took in two years I can remember that actually fascinated me. I’ve always been interested in people - why our bodies look the way they do, what instincts drive us to act certain ways, how society functions beyond the individual level. When I signed up for the Anthropology intro class, I really had no idea what to expect and suddenly found myself feeling like this subject had been waiting for me all along.

After transferring to UCSC, the flexibility of the Anthropology Department allowed me to narrow my focus further, diving headfirst into the cross-section of Anthropology and Gender Studies. Renya Ramirez’s Women in Cross-Cultural Perspective (ANTH 131) class illuminated so many international and historical gender issues that I would have never been exposed to if I had not come to UCSC. At the same time, my minor in Education was showing me that right here in the United States, gender roles were still having major repercussions on the way students were being treated in the education system. The pairing of the Anthropology major and Education minor allowed me to see a giant ecosystem at work in American society - one that continually is perpetuating its own race-, class-, and gender-based structural inequalities. For every social issue we discussed in Anthropology class, I saw Education as both part of the problem and part of the solution.

I thought of Megan Moodie’s fall seminar, Masculinities (ANTH 194O), as the logical end cap to my education at UCSC, and I remember coming into each class buzzing with excitement about my paper topic. My primary research was focused on examining who is given the opportunity to become a part of the technology workforce, and why, and how that workplace functions when it is ultimately occupied almost entirely by white men. Throughout the paper, I found myself intensively focusing on themes of identity construction and public discourse surrounding industry scandals.

Halfway through the quarter, I realized that the argument I was trying to make could not be made in 20 pages, which was the upper limit for the seminar’s project. Professor Moodie had told me multiple times that it sounded like what I was trying to write was a senior thesis, not a seminar paper. Around week 5, I asked her if she would be my advisor the next quarter so I could turn my work into what it was meant to be - a giant senior thesis. This decision completely changed the scope of what I was doing, and instead of constantly trying to mince words, I had the breathing room to include more rich ethnographic research and expand on the facets I considered important. Ultimately, I interviewed ten people over the two quarters. Between setting them up, travel time, talking, and transcribing the recordings, each interview probably took around 6-7 hours. At the same time, I was reading around 300-400 pages per week about the topic in books and academic journals, and ended up with a 66-page final draft of my own writing.

When I would tell people about my project, the response I most commonly heard was, “So, what do we do about it?” While there is no clean-cut answer to that question, the new passion that I had found in this cause led me to want to use my understanding of the issue to create something to inspire young girls Into changing the industry themselves, rather than waiting around to be accepted into it. My favorite teacher I had in the Education department, Brad Olsen (ED 180 and ED 120), agreed to work with me in my last quarter here to develop a curriculum for an after-school program for high school girls. Althoughinitially I thought I was going to write a computer science curriculum, when I sat down to try, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any frame of reference for what kind of skills were realistic in specific time frames, or how to assess what students had learned. I knew I had to play to my strengths and write a curriculum I would want to teach - and what I knew was Anthropology, Gender Studies, and Education.

Spark Club (the name I gave my curriculum) places the focus on explaining to students why gender inequality exists in science and technology, and teaches them how to stand up for themselves when they are faced with disrespect or microdiscrimination in their own lives. It uses several strategies for inspiring confidence in young girls in technology, including female guest speakers from different technology-based careers, group projects on powerful women and their accomplishments, and field trips to major companies that allow them to see the realities of working in that sort of industry. As a group, the girls will work together to use technology to tackle a social issue within their community. The program will strive to portray computer science and game development as an open field, rather than a closed room that leaves girls locked outside. Most high schools do not have any sort of class that explains gender issues, and Spark Club will hopefully be able to build that foundation and teach girls the language and tools they can use in a conversation about inequality in the context of technology.

Spring quarter, I could also be found in the Peer Advising office, gushing to freshmen and sophomores about how great the Anthropology department is and circling my favorite professors on their course schedules. The faculty in this department have given me so many opportunities to pursue my own interests, and I could not be more humbled or grateful to have had their support. I know that they were under no obligation to take time out of their busy schedules to advise me in my independent projects. Thanks to their help, I have completed my time at UCSC with a body of work I can be proud of, and a specialty I can use when looking for jobs or in the fall when I apply to grad school. I’m not sure where life will take me next, but I know I’m not done with my work towards equality in the technology industry.