Message from the Chair
August 20, 2020
Welcome to the new semester! Despite circumstances, this fall’s ‘message from the chair’ brings good news—news of a trend that I hadn’t considered before reading Sarah Vowell’s recent New York Times commentary. There, I learned that “right now, in this year of calamities, of burials, killing, isolation and impeachment trial […many of those elected] into leadership are the graduates of public universities. And there are enough of them that we should acknowledge this moment of culmination.”
In other words, the days in which the ivy leagues called the shots may soon be over: emerging leaders increasingly hail from state universities and land-grant colleges. They are graduates not from elite private schools but from institutions across the nation that are just like SDSU. Like us—like you—they know the value of a public-facing education. This value is interestingly anthropological. Let me explain.
After listing a number of governors and other public servants from both parties, Vowell notes that the “public university atmosphere lends itself to producing grounded, empathetic public servants.” Why? It could be because in public universities, as in the US military, “large quantities of random adults are thrown together and made to coexist for years on end: the budget-minded, the lightly parented, the formerly incarcerated, the downsized, the underestimated, veterans, refugees, late bloomers, single moms, divorced dads, Bible thumpers, empty nesters, …and a hodgepodge of souls who [want] a fair chance at a decent life.”
In my estimation, getting to know others in a public institution such as ours helps to nourish human empathy and mutuality. It feeds our capacity for ‘shared intentionality’—for holding and expressing a sense of ‘we-ness’ or feeling of ‘us’. As many of our anthropology courses teach, shared intentionality is essential to successful full-scale cooperation: understanding and embracing the ‘we’ forms the heart of being human. And grasping that ‘we’ is a much broader category than just ‘people like us’ is at the heart of good citizenship.
In these turbulent times, I take comfort in knowing that those who graduate from SDSU and other public universities like ours are stepping into important leadership positions, and I hope that you do too. No matter how challenging this semester may be, if we keep our eyes on this prize—and on human ‘we-ness’—we can succeed, together.
EJ Sobo, Chair
Department of Anthropology