International experiences are driving this anthropology grad to right injustices around the world
Savannah Melvin was raised in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Zimbabwe. Having experienced different cultures and seeing lots of injustice, she feels it’s her moral responsibility to do something that will contribute back and make a difference for people.
For her senior thesis project, Savannah traveled to Ecuador to study its medical culture. Savannah spent two months in midwife clinics and hospitals around the country. As she compared healing practices in Ecuador and America, she recognized important differences. “I realized that Ecuadorians used what we would think of as non-traditional medicine but what they consider traditional,” she says.
Savannah also traveled to Rwanda as part of a study abroad. She worked with genocide-affected women and children. The experience developed even more compassion in her. She explains, “It drove me to want to make a difference because I was surrounded by people who were doing amazing things to help this population who went through so much.”
Savannah’s undergraduate experiences in the Anthropology program and at BYU have shaped her passion to defend human rights and refugees. She says that she chose to study anthropology because she wants to do something multiculturally based to lay a foundation to practice law in a multicultural setting.
Savannah plans to apply to Harvard Law School next year with the hopes of becoming an international lawyer to right some of the injustice she’s witnessed around the world.
Studying Tongan culture helps anthropology grad identify family glue
As part of her senior thesis project, Breeze studied three huge kinship groups totaling 100 individuals (some online and some in-person) last summer. All of the families practiced honoring the fahu, which in Tongan culture is your father’s oldest sister. The fahu is an important kinship role and considered the matriarch of the family. Fahus historically dictated many things in the family including who her kinship could marry.
Breeze noticed how the practice of fahus is dying out. During her research, she discovered the importance of fahus in present day Tongan families. “Fahus are the glue for the intergenerational idea of family,” says Breeze. She analyzed how Tongan families include all extended family where as an American family is mostly comprised of the nuclear family.
Breeze chose to study anthropology because she loves diverse groups of people. After graduating in April, Breeze will attend BYU Law School to become an immigration lawyer. She feels her studies have prepared her for her future career in many ways and says “Anthropology is all about getting to know people on their terms. It’s nice because as a lawyer, I will have an anthropologic perspective and desire to understand what my clients are going through.”
Breeze grew up in Hawaii and felt it was difficult to find her place when she first came to BYU in Provo. She reflects, “I found out what it was like to be a minority on campus and sometimes it was hard to relate to people.”
Breeze was able to find her place participating in the BYU Polynesian Club. She also felt a sense of acceptance when she started the anthropology program. “My peers and professors made me feel like I was at home.”
Anthropology grad uncovers moral divide Arab-Americans see between themselves and other Americans
Graduating senior Brayton Bate sat in the living rooms of many Arab-American families in Utah, studying how they viewed Americans and American culture. In dinner conversations he learned that the way Arabs distinguish between themselves and Americans is moral in nature. He reports, “It’s about ethics. It’s not about skin color or even religion.”
Brayton observed how Arab-Americans in Utah understand the ethnic divide between themselves and Americans to be a moral divide. As Brayton discussed the differences between the two cultures with one Arab woman, she said that from her perspective Americans value their career and productive schedules more than relationships. She felt Arabs, on the other hand, prioritize community over autonomy.
One thing that surprised Brayton during his research was the affinity that Arab-Americans had for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says that the families he talked to respected and loved members of the church in Utah because of how closely related their conduct is to Islam. Brayton shares, “They do not feel that way about other churches and they’re very clear about it.”
Brayton choose to study anthropology because he wanted to perform his own ethnographic research, “I thought it was a unique opportunity to be able to spend time on the ground in the trenches of people — recording, taking pictures and videos. It’s very similar to work you would do on a graduate level.”
Brayton loved his time in the anthropology program and how he was able to learn to interact with people in a candid way in order to collect data. Brayton shares the importance of removing personal bias, “You can’t impose your personal beliefs on data, but rather, you collect and publish data based on what the data is saying instead of what you want to say.”
Reflecting upon his senior research project, Brayton said he gained humility. “Spending time with people and performing research doesn’t necessarily make you an expert.”
Brayton’s father is a Palestinian immigrant who came to the United States. After Brayton graduates, he plans to apply for foreign policy internships in the Middle East and eventually live and work there.
Anthropology grad studies impact of Zoom turning Provo apartments into college classrooms
While Zoom has worked well in lessening the spread of COVID-19 on college campuses, it has had detrimental effects on students’ ability to engage with their classes and connect with classmates and professors.
For Samantha’s senior thesis project in the anthropology program, she studied the experiences of BYU students in the summer of 2020, during the largest influx of remote learning that has ever occurred. The students she observed were participating in all their classes via Zoom. Samantha noticed how the pandemic didn’t just ruin things by adding distractions with learning from home, but students were having to control two parts of their lives at once: being a student and whatever they tried to do simultaneously.
Samantha argues that Zoom shouldn’t be viewed as an equal replacement to in-person courses but as a secondary method of instruction. She explains, “You can’t mute yourself in an in-person interaction, so classroom exchanges are much more genuine. It’s easier to tell the mood of a classroom than a Zoom room, for reasons such as feedback, technological delays, and overall, the simple lack of togetherness-feeling over Zoom.”
Despite feelings of disconnection, Zoom offers advantages like allowing students to take classes from literally anywhere in the world. It also helps with accessibility issues. Zoom’s closed captioning feature can be added to a recorded meeting and help those who would otherwise need an interpreter.
After looking at the advantages and disadvantages of Zoom, Samantha notes that many of the successes and failures are at the control of both the student and the professor.
Tips For Students
Samantha’s research shows that students need to feel present in their live-streamed classes, even if they’re not physically with their classmates and professor. She saw how difficult it can be to balance two frames of life at once. To combat this, Samantha suggests that students become aware of these contrasting frames and be willing to change, “If students are taking classes at home, there’s nothing they can do about the maintenance workers showing up, but they can try to place themselves in a location that removes them from the most distractions possible.”
Tips For Professors
Samantha encourages professors to understand the features of Zoom and use them for the student’s benefit. “The professor, or anyone facilitating a Zoom call, has the chance to make the meeting as engaging as they’d like, but this also requires premeditated effort and training on their behalf,” she says. Professors can also request feedback from students to learn how they can improve and increase engagement.
Samantha plans to continue pursuing her interest in education and attend Boston College this fall for a master’s program in international higher education. Samantha’s dream is to work in an administrative position at a college or university.
Samantha is grateful for the anthropology program and how it prepared her for graduate studies. “Anthropology is really broad and some people see that as a downside but it’s really a benefit because you can apply its main focus of understanding people to anything.”