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Shared Academic Experience: Class of 2020 and Transfer Students

Connected

A copy of Americanah will be mailed to your home address in late June or early July, courtesy of the Sphinx Foundation at Dartmouth.

We thank them for their generosity in support of new students.

Introduction

Each year, a member of the Dartmouth faculty is asked to curate a Shared Academic Experience to meaningfully engage incoming students and encourage community dialogue and personal reflection.

This year, Sienna Craig, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, has selected the book  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to launch our shared "Experience."

In late June or early July, you will receive at your home address a paperback version of Americanah. The purchase of the books and their mailing are courtesy of the Sphinx Foundation at Dartmouth.

Please read the book and watch for communication later in the summer, in preparation for Professor Craig's Shared Academic Experience lecture during Orientation.

Enjoy! We'll talk again soon ...

Background Information

From Professor Craig on Americanah:

When I was asked to choose a book for this year’s Shared Academic Experience, I was both honored and nervous. As someone who loves to read as much as I love to write, the idea of choosing just one book was daunting. I asked friends, family members, and students for suggestions. But, I also went with my gut instinct. Americanah is a novel I could not put down. It tells the story of Ifemelu and her childhood love, Obinze, Nigerians born at a tumultuous time in their country’s history. But it is also a story about race, class, identity, and belonging in contemporary America, and as global citizens.  The book addresses what it means to attend an elite U.S. university as an international student and a black woman (Ifemelu goes to University of Pennsylvania), to navigate interracial relationships, to face different forms of violence and discrimination but also to find oneself, to cultivate an indestructible inner confidence, and to be vulnerable. To borrow a phrase from the writer and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams (who also happens to be a Dartmouth professor), the book speaks to me of “finding beauty in a broken world.”

Germane to events unfolding on our campus and at institutes of higher education across the country, Americanah will help to launch you into a “Dartmouth Experience” that embraces tough questions. I hope that this book will help you develop a vocabulary for engaging across social difference and fostering an ethic of respect, curiosity, and humility. The book speaks to what it means to be a young person and a college student but also, as the book progresses, what it means to be a scholar, a teacher, and an adult. It is about family, and the ends of kinship that extend across oceans and cyberspace – ends that can be at once frayed and knotted together. The book asks that you look at America in new and enlightening ways, be this the country of your birth or not, the place you feel most at home, or not.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing storyteller. Her words are vivid, chosen carefully. Her characters demand you treat them with tenderness, that you understand the complexities of their lives. This, too, is why the book seems like an exemplary way to start our conversation together at Dartmouth. To get a deeper sense of why Chimamanda’s work is so important and why I’ve chosen it for you, I invite you to watch this TED talk, in which she discusses what she calls “The danger of a single story,” as well as the clarity and power that can come from challenging our own presumptions about ourselves and others.

I hope that you enjoy the book, and I look forward to talking about it with you in September.

Be well,
Sienna Craig

Biography

When I tell people that I am an anthropologist, sometimes they smile politely and say “that’s nice!” not knowing what to make of that long five-syllable word. Some people say, “Doesn’t that have something to do with dinosaurs?” Other people respond, “How cool! Like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?” And, on a few occasions, people have asked me what tribe I study and if I’ve ever lived in an igloo. None of these answers is right, but they all contain fragments of what anthropology has been, is, or can be. Anthropology is inquiry into what it means to be human, in all our diversity, through millennia and across geographies. Anthropologists are curious about where humans came from and how we learned to create complex social worlds. We are interested in language and culture: what makes people different from each other as well as the things that we share. We want to know how human communities have changed over time, how we create meaning in our lives, and how we adapt to new social, political, or environmental circumstances.

As a cultural and medical anthropologist, I am curious about how people around the world define ‘health’ and make sense of illness. I explore the social lives of medicines, be they hand-crafted by the Tibetan doctors I work with in Nepal and China or in high tech pharmaceutical factories. I love to work collaboratively and across disciplines, and I am committed to applying the insights gained from anthropology to change the circumstances of global health inequality. I work with 21st century practitioners of ‘traditional’ medicine and also with biomedical doctors, mostly in Asia and the US. Much of my work focuses on the lives of women, infants, and children. I have worked closely with several nongovernmental organizations over the past 20+ years, as part of my commitment to doing research with individuals and communities rather than on research subjects. I am also really interested in experiences of migration and diaspora, and the cultural change that goes along with these dynamics, particularly across generations.

I was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, and then traveled east for college, earning a BA in Religious Studies from Brown in 1995. I first traveled to Nepal during my undergraduate days, in 1993, and I have been returning to this part of the world ever since. I speak Nepali and several dialects of Tibetan, and my life is richer for it. I love to write. This includes writing for academic journals and edited volumes, but also writing books, journalistic articles, and creative work including poetry and children’s literature.  My most recent book is called Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine. You can read an example of some of my more public scholarship here, in a piece I wrote as part of research I’m doing in response to the devastating 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Right now, I am working on a book that traces the stories of individuals and families from a rural region of Nepal’s high Himalaya, some of whom have migrated to America, specifically to New York City, over the past two decades. This ethnography I’m working on explores similar themes to those about which you will read in Americanah.

 

 Thalia Wheatley

 

 
 

 

Last Updated: 6/14/16