The Crossroads: Change Springs Eternal

by Sarah Birdsong
Anthropology: the study of human societies and their development.

Don’t overlook the impact people have in your life—whether they become staples of your everyday life, or they were a brief episode. For me, I was still in the process of completing my Associates of Fine Arts when I took an intro course in Anthropology course as one of my social science electives.

For as long as I can remember, artwork has been a cornerstone in my identity. In my childhood, I devoted hours to that craft, filling sketchbook to the brim with lively and fantastical compositions. When it came to my college education I chose Fine Art as my major as a placeholder while I worked around my learning disability. I had no aspirations of purpose or meaning at this point because I was focused on simply surviving the educational arena.

That changed when I took ANT 210: General Anthropology. The course catalog describes it as such:

This course introduces the physical, archaeological, linguistic, and ethnological fields of anthropology. Topics include human origins, genetic variations, archaeology, linguistics, primatology, and contemporary cultures. Upon completion, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the four major fields of anthropology.

Knowing what I know now, this is an impossibly vague introductory course with just enough information to tease out intriguing questions while offering virtually nothing in terms of substantive answers. In fact, I found that anthropology posed more questions than it even thought of answering. And it takes a different kind of personality to accept that kind of ambiguity.

But it was enough. That one class made me switch gears from being an art major to a social science student by the end of the semester. At that point, I stopped worrying about my art portfolio and started researching the concepts that my instructor had given to me.

Anthropology didn’t just refine my educational path—it permanently altered my life.  It has challenged and inspired me to evolve more than anything else I have ever had the pleasure of coming into contact with. It’s completely reshaped my view of the world. And while it may sound lofty, I can say with 100% certainty that it’s made me a better citizen of the world.

The Importance of Reaching Out

I digress. The point of this entry is thus; I found my first anthropology instructor on LinkedIn. I hemmed and hawed on whether or not I should contact her, largely because I didn’t believe she would remember me. In the end, I did contact her, and we shared the following exchange:


You probably do not remember me, but I was in one of your night Intro to Anthropology courses. That class inspired me to transfer to UNCC for Cultural Anthropology, which I am graduating from in December.


Thank you so much for telling me that! I miss teaching every day, but I had to give it up with my demanding travel schedule at [redacted]. I am so happy to hear you went to UNCC too as that is where I went. I loved it! I wish you the very best of luck and please let me know if I can ever help you out in any way as you search for a job/career. Seriously, this email just made my year!

When I applied to UNCC, there were no sleepless nights wondering if my art portfolio passed muster. And when I was accepted into UNCC’s anthropology program, Dr. Dalsheim was my first introduction to anthropology as she saw it. She was my first introduction to the concept of intersectionality as a feminist and as a scientist—as an anthropologist.

I was just reading the very first paper I ever wrote on the topic of anthropology. Its chief concern was the effect of missionaries on the Akha people, an indigenous hill tribe originating in China. Reading my old work certainly illustrates how far I’ve come in my research and overall writing skills. I am tempted to post it here in the future.


I have compiled a list of additional resources regarding this entry and its contents for researching the topics therein:

The Anthropology Department at UNCC: take a look at my Alma Mater. The Anthropology Department at UNCC is dedicated to a holistic, four-field approach for understanding the experience and value of human diversity across time, space, and social groups.

Dr. Joyce Dalsheim: an assistant professor whose tenure at UNCC focuses on Cultural Anthropology, gender, nationalism, Israel and nearby areas.

Unsettling Gaza: Joyce Dalsheim’s ethnographic study takes a ground-breaking approach to one of the most contentious issues in the Middle East: the Israeli settlement project. Based on fieldwork in the settlements of the Gaza Strip and surrounding communities during the year prior to the Israeli withdrawal, Unsettling Gaza poses controversial questions about the settlement of Israeli occupied territories in ways that move beyond the usual categories of politics, religion, and culture.

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