Dear Students: A Welcome from the Chair

Dr. Weibel

August 23, 2017

Dear Students,

Summer has come and gone, and we find ourselves looking forward to a new start and a terrific 2017-2018 academic year. I’m an anthropologist of religion who specializes in pilgrimage and tourism, and I’m writing to you from the road as I return from a very special pilgrimage of sorts, a trip to Nebraska to experience the totality of the August 21, 2017 “Great American Eclipse”. It has been fascinating to travel overland to a get inside a narrow band cutting across the country from Oregon to South Carolina, along with millions of other people, all hoping to stand in the shadow of the moon and stare up at the sun’s corona for a minute or two. Tiny towns along the path prepared for an influx of visitors, offering $25 parking spaces, last minute glasses, eclipse foods and souvenirs and unique photo opportunities. The experience was intense, but so was the anticipation!

Anticipation for the new year in Anthropology is intense as well. We are continuing our important community partnership with Bethany Refugee and Immigrant Services, offering internships and other class experiences that help our students learn about the diverse refugee community in West Michigan and put their skills to use connecting with that community. We are expanding and deepening our other community partnerships, as part of our commitment to applied anthropology, a form of anthropology that focuses on finding solutions for real-world problems (we also offer a Certificate in Applied Anthropology). 


We are going to have two new faces in the Anthropology department this year. New Visiting Professor Sherman W. Horn III is an archaeologist who conducts research in the Central American and Caribbean nation of Belize. Professor Horn’s work focuses on social networks, trade and exchange, and complex societies. He’ll be teaching Human Origins and Origins of Civilization for us this fall, and also run a section of Introduction to Archaeology during winter semester. You may also see Dawn Rutecki in our offices and classrooms. Her work combines issues of archaeology, gender and religion, and she’ll be teaching a section of People and Cultures of the World. And you may see more of one special face – Wesley Jackson, our Collections and Information Management Specialist (his new title!), will be increasing his hours and presence in the lab, and will be teaching again for us, a section of Origins of Civilization on the Holland campus.

Our faculty (and many of our students) explored the world again this summer. As anthropologists and archaeologists we always seem ready to head out to explore. Professor Elizabeth Arnold led her archaeological field school in Israel, taking with her an intrepid band of GVSU students whose horizons were expanded by the experience. Professor Gwyn Madden conducted an ethnographic field school here in West Michigan, focusing on special education classrooms, then headed to Ukraine to conduct research in biological anthropology (taking a few GVSU students for good measure). We had faculty voyaging throughout the summer months, hitting such destinations as Guyana, Germany, Kenya, Norway, Peru, Switzerland and Uganda, as well as teaching summer classes and conducting research closer to home. As always, most of us spent at least part of the summer hunched over our laptops, writing!

One last important piece of news is that Professor Janet Brashler has announced that she will be retiring in 2018. She will be on leave from teaching during fall 2017, return for a last semester of classes in winter 2018, and provide students with a last chance to take her celebrated local archaeological field school during the summer of 2018. Professor Brashler’s contributions to the classroom will be deeply missed, and I urge you to take advantage of the chance to experience learning from her while you still can. The local summer field school is a great way to earn your 307/308/490 credits, learn archaeology onsite and make lifelong friends.


As for me, I’m entering the last year in my term as unit head of Anthropology, anticipating more time to conduct research and, yes, write. Academic departments, like celestial bodies, experience natural cycles and changes, and we’re going to see some transformations this year. But, to paraphrase the 1980s pop band Timbuk 3, “The future’s so bright, (we) gotta wear shades!”

Looking forward to seeing you soon,
Deana Weibel
Chair, Anthropology Department