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A History of the National Association of Student Anthropologists

By Eric Haanstad, University of Wisconsin-Madison, NASA President 2001-2003

Establishment of NASA in 1985

The official origins of the first national-level student anthropology organization began when Roland Foulkes (at the time, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley) wrote a "Call for a National Association of Student Anthropologists" in the April 1985 issue of the American Anthropological Association's (AAA) Anthropology Newsletter (AN). Until this time, Foulkes wrote, "if a student is not presenting a paper, participating in a roundtable discussion or hosting a special session, then there is no mechanism through which such student(s) can contribute to the overall structural and functional activities of AAA" (28). Foulkes proposed creating the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA) made up of student members of all the subsections of anthropology. Several months later, Foulkes wrote that although Margaret Mead stressed that students should be "solicited, seduced and systematically included" in AAA business, and despite the unprecedented student participation in the 1968 reorganization of the AAA, little had changed since then to insure broader student participation in the association ("An Update on a Proposal" AN. Oct. 1985). Foulkes wrote:

"I am convinced that, for the first time in the history of the AAA, there is an opportunity for systematic and genuine graduate and undergraduate student participation in every facet of the Association's work. This opportunity presents itself through the inauguration and the institutionalization of the proposed NASA as a Unit of the Association. It is through this important new venture that true student representation at every level of the Association can be achieved. After all, we are anthropologists who occupy, currently, the status of student. While such status does not necessitate special privilege, it does, nonetheless, provide for us a unique perspective within the anthropological community and we should want to make this perspective known. This essentially temporary condition of - graduate and undergraduate - student is not necessarily an insuperable barrier to the formation and operation of NASA. Hopefully, a fully functioning NASA could ensure that the imminently professional students are an integral part of the Association, thereby serving to enliven student interest and participation in the AAA and in its regional associations. It is hoped ultimately, that NASA could combine skillfully, as one 1968 delegate suggested (on behalf of a possible future student organization), "a minimum of structure with a maximum of benefit" to all members (24)."

Foulkes applied for initial funds for NASA through the Wenner-Gren Foundation and, building from the initial support of graduate and undergraduate students from four universities, formed an interim executive committee. An initial organizational meeting for NASA was part of the December 1985 AAA meetings in Washington D.C. chaired by the first President of NASA, Paul Sledzik (U Connecticut).

In 1991, the last term of his six year leadership as NASA President, Roland Foulkes awarded four students with the first "NASA President's Award," which was planned to be a discretionary award given by the president in subsequent years. Also, during the annual meeting in San Francisco in 1992, NASA awarded a then-biannual Distinguished Teaching Award to E.L. Cerroni-Long (Eastern Michigan U). During this period, an important link was formed with the Association of Senior Anthropologists (ASA). Based on contributions from ASA members, Past-President Foulkes served as a column editor for "Elder Views," a series of articles which highlighted the work of senior anthropologists. Finally, NASA continued its assistance to student anthropology clubs by publishing a guidebook in 1991, compiled by Terry Alasio (Sec-Treasurer), Renee Beauchmp (Undergraduate at-large) and Steve Sherry (Finance Committee Member), containing ideas for creating and sustaining a local anthropology club. This popular guidebook would generate a fair amount of revenue for NASA in subsequent years.

Continuity and Tragedy 1993-1995

In addition to the continued publication and revision of the NASA Guide to Anthropology Clubs, a 1993 Field School Guide, written by Victoria Maurais (later Victoria Vargas), was published for students. Following Roland Foulkes' efforts to have student representation on the AAA Board, NASA's President continued to serve as the Student Seat. President Andrew Merriwether (U Pittsburgh) used this new forum to propose that AAA donate memberships to three students at predominantly minority universities which was accepted by AAA and administered by the Department of Minority Affairs. Merriwether continued voicing student concerns by writing letters urging units of AAA to lower dues for students and include a student representative on their boards (prior to this time, only the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness had a student representative). Merriwether also served on the AAA External Relations Committee.

The Bulletin of NASA flourished during these years. Don Weslowski (Wisconsin-Madison) served as the Bulletin's editor for six years. In the Autumn Bulletin of 1993, Carrie Hunter-Tate (Ball State U), then a Graduate Member-at-Large wrote about how, several years following her previous discussions with Foulkes' in 1989 regarding the potential of NASA, she understood the even greater potential of the organization. "Students have a greater influence over their education than they realize. Departments, colleges, and universities will listen to their students. However it is up to the student to discover the means by which she/he can have a voice. NASA can help" (19).

NASA'S fourth Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Cynthia Cone at the AAA Business Meeting's Awards Ceremony in Atlanta in 1994. Several student representative positions were created in other sections (AAA restructured "units" to be called "sections" in 1994) including the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (SAE) and the American Ethnological Society (AES). Acknowledging NASA's role in working for the creation of these positions, AES allowed NASA to choose its liaison for the inaugural year. 1995's AN column offered an important series of articles on computer use in the field including "The New Technology of Fieldwork," by past NASA Editor and Vice President Roger Lohman (U Wisconsin-Madison) (May 1995, 24) and "Fieldnotes Using a Personal Computer" by G Peter Witteveen (U Wisconsin-Madison) (Oct. 1995, 15). In a heartfelt column in December 1995, NASA Editor Don Wesolowski wrote after reflecting on the death of his grandmother, a friend of the family and the Graduate Secretary of his anthropology department:

Memories of times gone by. Thoughts on the effects one person can have on another. Recollections of cases of serendipity. Friends of long ago, and friends of today. Watching a plant and the world, change and grow. Family as a line unbroken into the past, and branching out in the present. The heavy sense of loss and lost possibilities. The surge of joy at that which was said and done. Remember, and do not forget. Don't be weighed down by the past: remember to live in the present. Think with hope of the future. Keep the light shining (24).

These words, written in October of 1995, were tragically prescient and appropriate given the unexpected death of Carrie Hunter-Tate on November 17, 1995 of presumed heart failure. Hunter-Tate, who was elected to become the fifth president of NASA, died before being able to take office.

Regrouping and Change 1996-2001

Operation of the NASA Distinguished Teaching Award transferred to the AAA in 1996. The AAA Executive Board felt the award would confer more prestige to the recipient if it was awarded by the entire association. Although this marked the loss of an important student-generated comment on teachers it values, NASA was able to have one of its members sit on the subsequent AAA award committee. That year, NASA began planning a memorial award in honor of Carrie Hunter-Tate. The award is chosen from among all AAA sections with a student representative to a student exemplifying the enthusiasm for anthropology and dedicated service of Hunter-Tate.

Due to sagging membership, the possible restructuring of NASA within AAA was discussed by President Tad Schurr (Emory) with the new AAA Executive Director, Bill Davis. One proposed idea was the transformation of NASA into the AAA Student Section which would include all students within the AAA (AN, Feb 1997). In 1996, President Victoria Vargas' (U Oklahoma) proposal to maintain student membership rates in the AAA for two years beyond the PhD level was approved by the AAA Executive Board. Vargas also explored the idea of creating a Student Section Assembly mirroring AAA's Section Assembly, which would meet at the annual meeting and provide a networking opportunity among student representatives in different AAA sections.

In 1998, it was NASA's turn to take a rotating position within the AAA Executive Board (the last year this structure would take place). NASA's sixth President, Alexandra Mack, served on the board, voicing student interests and taking part in the AAA restructuring process in 1998/1999. NASA's commitment to student issues was reflected at the 1998 Annual Meeting, when it passed a resolution in support of the University of California system's graduate student employee strikes. NASA dues were lowered in 1999 to $1 for those joining two or more other sections and $10 for those joining only NASA. The year also marked an important change in the NASA budget when the Bulletin of NASA was eliminated due to publication costs (plans at the time were to convert the Bulletin to an online publication). This allowed NASA to offer more student awards including the Carrie Hunter-Tate award which was offered for the first time in 1999 for $250 (awarded to Donald Wood and Mary Ownby) as well as a number of travel awards for students attending the annual meeting. The annual meeting that year in Chicago offered students a unique opportunity to participate in a heavily-attended forum organized by Dr. Robert Borofsky (Hawaii-Pacific) on public anthropology, which used student-initiated questions as a form for discussion. In 2000, NASA's website was reworked by Desiree Martinez, who created a student listserv and a number of other on-line features. At the annual meeting in San Francisco, the Carrie Hunter Tate award was given to three students, Adam Fish, Melissa Cahnmann and Adrienne Isaac.

Expansion Period: 2001-present

Commencing with the consolidation of the structure of the organization, NASA has undergone a gradual and steady expansion over the last decade. Changes were introduced by Jason Miller, John Trainor, and Marcy O'Neil, all of whom oversaw a steady expansion of the organization and the training of new NASA Officers. By 2011, NASA's membership crossed the 1000 mark for the first time, establishing the section as one of the Association's five largest. That same year, NASA began a serious overhaul effort aimed at addressing the ongoing developments in anthropology, including recent disciplinary and external controversies. The Board agreed in early 2012 to launch a pilot project to develop leadership in the discipline (Emerging Leaders in Anthropology Program, or ELAP) in conjunction with other sections and AAA committees. At the same time, Student Anthropologist began a push to improve engagement and expand the journal's offerings as a forum for student scholarship. NASA plans to launch a new website platform in the upcoming year.


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