Why Anthropology Is Not a Useless Degree

I didn’t finish college until I was 27 and it took a great deal of work for me to graduate with a 4 year degree, let alone go on to finish a year of graduate school. I went to a community college right after high school, took all of my required general education classes as well as a lot of classes in the areas of Science and Art. I know it’s kind of an odd combination. I also took a variety of classes in the areas of English, History and Communication. When I look back now, it doesn’t seem that odd to me, it makes sense, since I have a great deal of interest in all of those areas. When I applied to WMU, I applied to Frostic School of Art and I had to submit a portfolio with some of my photography, painting and drawing. I was accepted and when I told the important men in my life, aka boyfriend (now husband) and my father, they both discouraged me from pursuing a degree in art. When looking back, I believe they probably were thinking studio art, when I said School of Art. I must say, before I move on, that I have a great deal of areas that interest me and my education/work went in many different directions. I got a certificate in veterinary assisting and worked in an emergency veterinary hospital for 3 years, I got my CNA and worked as a PCA and I spent one summer traveling around Michigan and Indiana for a photography internship. So looking back I can understand some of the concern from them and because I respect my father’s opinion, I decided to pursue a different degree. (I was planning on majoring in graphic design and photography.)

My college advisor was not only the director of advising, but someone who went to our church growing up and I trusted him very much. I met with him, explained all of my interests and experience and what programs sounded interesting to me and I decided on Anthropology. I honestly think that most people have no concept of what Anthropology is or the idea the have is based off a TV show like Bones. The definition of anthropology is the study of human societies, culture and their development, as well as the study of human biological and physiological characteristics and their evolution.  There are several different branches of Anthropology, but they are usually broken down into either Physical or Cultural Anthropology. Although I focused mainly on physical anthropology, I took a variety of classes in the areas of cultural anthropology and I minored in Global and International Studies. Most of my classes focused on genetics, biology, osteology and forensics. I also took many classes in the areas of archaeology, cultural anthropology and religion. My goal was to finish my MA in Anthropology and then find a job in the area of forensic anthropology or physical anthropology. I did very well in school once I was at a university and with the assistance of the school’s disability services. (If you have any type of mental illness or chronic/invisible illness and are attending college, I highly recommend you look into this. For me, it gave me the ability to take all my tests and exams in the disability center which helped me significantly). I also got a 4.0 in ever single graduate class that I took. I took online courses in the areas of crime scene investigation and forensic photography while I was in graduate school. I stopped pursuing my MA after what happened to me, beginning in the fall of 2014, when I tapered off of several anti-anxiety medications, which caused a great deal of problems and basically made me house bound for a while. I know I have yet to write a blog post on this subject, I am happy to talk to anyone privately amount it (email me) but it still triggers my PTSD and although I have tried, I have yet to be able to write it all down. Someday!

I have had many people question why anyone would possibly get a degree in Anthropology. People seem to question any degree that isn’t health or business related these days. I have zero interest in anything business or finance related, why would I get a degree in it? Obviously some people choose their college major according to how much money they will make and although we obviously all need money, money isn’t important to me. It never has been. Not in the sense that I would chose a college major based on what my salary would be. I chose Anthropology because I love history, science, forensics, art, culture and religion. I was lucky enough to find a degree where I could incorporate all of those things. I fully intended to find a full time job in my field once I finished my MA and we moved somewhere that actually has jobs in my field. But this obviously didn’t happen and I am okay with that. Because of my faith, I believe I wasn’t on the path I was supposed to be and God gave me a nudge to get me to go in the correct direction. I am sure he tried previously to get my attention, sadly I was focused on other things at the time. Is Anthropology a hard field to get a job in? Yes it is. You need at least your MA, although a great deal of anthropologists also get their PH.D. Do I think that Anthropology is a useless degree? Absolutely not. We have learned so much about the people that came before us from anthropologists and archaeologists. Their work never ceases to amaze me and I am constantly trying to find books written by people in the field because it fascinates me. I truly do not think any degree is useless because college will teach you so many things about yourself and the world. I occasionally make jokes about how much money I spent to now be a homemaker but please don’t ever let that make you believe that I regret the education that I have or that I don’t value the things I learned. Anthropology is fantastic because so much of what I learned makes me see the world differently, helps me understand different people, cultures and religions and I think it will really help me in the area of pregnancy and parenting. Plus, I think that learning about history, both the people and the events that came before us, is very helpful in teaching us how to move forward and not repeat the same mistakes. I could go on and on about the benefits of this field and degree, but here are some of the things I learned in college that I have found useful in my every day life. (Also, nothing on this list is meant to be judgemental in any way, it is simply a list of things I learned in college, that I agree with and have found useful in my day to day life.)

1. Studying the way other cultures treat pregnancy and childbirth really opened my eyes to how “wrong” Western culture has become in those areas and how most women think that natural childbirth is completely absurd. Western culture has interrupted so many of the important aspects of actually experiencing childbirth and bonding. Don’t get me started on breastfeeding.

2. There are so many different cultures around the  world and they are all pretty amazing, if you take the time to learn about their customs and beliefs.

3. The same goes for religion. I am a Christian, but I really loved learning about different religions and seeing how many of their practices and beliefs matched up with my own. I also think that if we took the time to truly learn about other people’s religious and cultural beliefs, this world would see a lot less conflict.

4. There is a very strong mind/body connection and it was a topic I found to be quite fascinating to learn about and something that was very easily applied in real life. This isn’t exactly in the field of anthropology, but I took some graduate classes in holistic health when I was studying the field of medical anthropology.

5. Circumcision is completely medically unnecessary, it actually causes more problems (i.e. scar tissue, nerve damage, decreased sensation, etc.). There is a slight decrease in the risk of UTI’s with circumcision, which are fairly rare in men to begin with. It is a form of body modification and there really is not reason to do it, because the foreskin has a purpose and it’s purpose is to protect the penis. Obviously, in some religions this is a common practice and I have no disagreement with that. I am actually quite passionate about anti-circumcision and wrote a fairly lengthy paper about in college. (Also, see the non-judgemental comment from above. Most people don’t questions “normal” practices in their culture until they read something or see a documentary about it, etc. Things like this are intimate decisions that every family must make, so no judgement either way.)

6. The way we parents our children goes against everything natural that people have been doing for thousands of years (i.e. baby wearing, breastfeeding until at least the age of 2, co-sleeping, etc.) and people come up with absurd practices like “cry it out”. I took several classes on growth and development which opened my eyes to how babies and children communicate. Read – there is no such thing as a “bad” baby, they cry because that is their only form of communication and as their caretaker, they are telling you they need something. That something might simply to be comforted and held, because they are a baby. (Again, see non-judgemental comment above. If this was all you were taught, it’s all you will know.)

7. I also learned a great deal in the field of osteology and it has helped me understand some of my own orthopedic injuries as well as those of family and friends.

8. It furthered my love for art and literature, which I have been passionate about my whole life. But it also opened my eyes to different forms of art and different genres of literature.

No matter what you decide to major in during college, make sure you are doing it because you want to and not just picking a cookie cutter degree because you know you can get a job right out of college. Or go ahead, let me know how happy you are 5 years after graduating in field you can’t stand.

P.S. My next blog post will be dealing with how our culture is now shaming women who chose to be a housewife/homemaker/”stay at home mom”.

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