Have you always been an anthropologist and never knew it? Check out snapshots, conversations with professional practicing and applied anthropologist. Let’s meet Suzette Suzette fontelle Chang, is the founder and CEO of thick descriptions. She identifies as human with African American experiences and practice socio cultural anthropology
[Oncreen Text] Let’s begin! Tell us Suzette
How did you to get into anthropology and what is your subfield of practice?
Suzette Vontell Chang 0:46
My very first exposure to anthropology, although I did not know it was anthropology was when I was five years old, grew up in the Bay Area, so San Francisco Bay Area. Went to a store with my mom. At that time, we ethnically were identified as black. And so we were in a, a department store that was predominantly at that time was identified as white. And so being a typical five year old, I’m in the clothes rack playing with my new friend, and we’re having a ball and my mom says, Suzette, it’s time to go. And I said, okay, and I look at my friend, and she gives a sad face, I do as well. And then my mom gets a little firmer, and she’s like, Suzette, it’s time to go. And as loud as a five year old can say it, I say, what about my white friend, and the whole, what appeared for me the whole world stood still, the looks that I received from all the adults in the room, suggested that what I said was not okay. The parents mothers, their faces turned red, my mother’s face turned a darker hue of brown, as she put her face down and grabbed me by my arm. From that point on, I just became very curious with labels and their historical influences. And, and and why are we still using labels that may or may not be applicable anymore. Fast forward, I moved to Oklahoma, and I’m a non traditional student taking classes and one of the electives was an anthropology class. And so I took it and realized that’s what that was, I want to know more. I want to not only understand human experiences, but, not “but”, and how those experiences impact our daily lives.
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace?
Suzette Vontell Chang 3:19
It has contributed in a very significant and powerful way. Because again, the focus is looking at us as humans with different experiences, not the categories that we’ve created, be it for Census purposes, for quantitative perspective, but more of a qualitative and it has allowed me to blend those two. So looking at human beings from a quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and seeing how those two can complement each other versus oppose each other. So thick descriptions is a tax exempt corporation. Based in Oklahoma City, specifically, we are committed to providing natural and social sciences to kids, tweens, teens and adults. We have three initiatives. One is STEAM, and the “a” for us is a capital A and it stands for Anthropology. And we offer that during school breaks to help bridge the learning gap. So Oklahoma ranks 48th in the country as it relates to education in the Pandemic did not help. And so, what we do is we identify communities that understand the value of anthropology within the context of sociocultural, and STEM. So blending those natural and social sciences together, and we cultivate we, we it’s almost like providing a mini ethnography. So we spend time with these communities we gather information about them what they want their young people to have. We develop the curriculum, and then we execute.
Tell me a moment that changed the way you practiced anthropology.
Suzette Vontell Chang 5:13
So I am a latchkey kid, I grew up with the key around my neck. And parents, adults didn’t get home until after I got home from school. And the focus was, make sure you obviously get in the house, do your homework, do your chores, and it’s it needs to be done by the time I get home. So although that is, I think in thought that that is a great way to be raised. That doesn’t mean that everyone else embraces that, especially when you are working with different generations, different humans with different experiences. And not everyone has the latchkey experience. And so how anthropology has helped me understand that is understanding that I need to be as effective of a communicator as I possibly can. And that means leading with so many questions. So having the big picture understanding and being willing to get into the most minute of weeds as possible, because that one little weed can shift everything. And I owe that to anthropology, I really do.
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologists seeking roles in professional fields
Suzette Vontell Chang 6:54
Continue to look outside of academia, for opportunities for anthropology to be a staple. So although I am a non-traditional, was a non-traditional student, at that time, the only the only options that were given or discussed to me was well, you can continue and get your PhD and stay in academia. And although the “Dr.” did sound appealing still does, when I was clear that that’s not my audience, when starting Thick Descriptions and having that conversations with advisors, and they were like, Well, why would you do that? I’m like, why not? Why why obtain, glean, learn all this information for it just to set it needs to be passed on to humans that need it and hopefully it will be as impactful to them as it is, was to me and and it has been. So yeah, just encouraging the next generation to identify as many opportunities to collaborate. Anthropology, librarianship, whatever, because it has a place it has. Again, we’re talking about human beings. So anything that a human being does, it’s an it’s anthropological.
Thank you, Suzette, for sharing your experience as a practicing professional and applied anthropologist for more snapshots find us here practicing anthropology.org, LinkedIn, meta and Twitter.
[Onscreen Text] Many Thanks to NAPA’s General Council for their Support! NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association. Practicing Anthropology.org Directors: Reshama Damle and Suanna Crowley Producers: Cathleen Crain, Niel Tashima, Joshua Liggett [NAPA Logo]
Transcribed by https://otter.ai