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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Anthropology of Health and the Environment

Engaged and Community-Based Anthropology


A unique strength of our program in the Anthropology of Health and the Environment is its engaged and community-based approach. In our research, teaching, and creative work, we engage with students, communities, and with pressing local and global issues.

Engaging with Students

Our faculty provide students with opportunities that regularly transcend the classroom: we involve students in research, we teach them in field schools, and we collaborate with students in professional presentations and workshops at conferences. This is the unique advantage of a terminal MA program.

Below, we highlight some of the ways that we have involved students in our research and creative projects in the past five years.

  • John Brett has taken students to the field as Research Assistants on a variety of projects—both domestically and internationally. These include program evaluation in the US, basic research on microfinance in Bolivia, the study of medicinal plants in Puerto Rico, and development research in Guatemala. Since 2006 he and colleagues have developed and run a field school in ethnographic methods first in Ecuador and most recently in Guatemala.
  • Sarah Horton conducted interviews with a MA student in Tijuana on Anglo and Mexican Americans’ cross-border health care seeking strategies; the two co-authored an article on their research in Social Science & Medicine in 2011. Dr. Horton also took a student to California’s Central Valley to conduct research on self-care practices of Mexican migrant farmworkers and co-authored an article with her in Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health in 2012. Currently, she is directing a team of students conducting phone interviews with workers’ compensation attorneys in California on the factors that suppress migrant farmworkers’ claims. Students presented on their research projects for her course, “Migrant Health,” in two different professional conferences.
  • Steve Koester conducted fieldwork with an MA student in St. Vincent examining the effect of neoliberal trade reform, and specifically the country’s replacement of bananas with marijuana as its primary source of foreign exchange. Currently, Dr. Koester is working with two undergraduate and two graduate students examining health issues among the city’s homeless and drug using populations. He has also involved a large number of undergraduate and graduate students as volunteers at the city’s first legally sanctioned syringe exchange.
  • Marty Otañez - Students in Anthropology and other fields collaborate with Marty in the performance of digital storytelling workshops with community members. Themes of workshops focus on smoking, cancer, hepatitis C and reproductive rights among Latinas and other disenfranchised communities. In partnership with students and community members, Marty has organized and performed dozens of presentations, panels, workshops and screenings at professional conferences that advocate for policy-influential digital media. He is the founder of the Coalition for Excellence in Digital Storytelling (www.dscoalition.org).

To get a sense of career opportunities in Anthropology, please click here. To see the accomplishments of our current and former students, please click here.

Engaging with the Community

Our faculty’s research, teaching, and creative work is distinguished by its engagement with Denver’s vibrant health care sector as well as the multiple nonprofits and centers that serve its multi-ethnic, marginalized populations. We teach two classes that actively involve students in engaged and community-based participatory research. These include: ANTH 4300/5300, “Migrant Health,” and ANTH 4230/5230, “Anthropology and Community-Based Participatory Research.”

Our research, teaching and creative work engages with the following health care institutions, nonprofits, and advocacy groups in Denver and beyond:

Engaging with Pressing Local and Global Issues

Our faculty is involved in conducting applied research on pressing local and global issues related to the anthropology of health and the environment. Here is a sample of some of our engaged and community-based work:

  • John Brett is finishing up a volume on the lived reality of participation in microfinance programs which was first inspired by the realization that microfinance participants often had to compromise household diet in order to make loan payments. He has recently begun a multi-year development research project in southwestern Guatemala in collaboration with the UCD Center for Global Health.
  • Sarah Horton is currently writing a book about the way that the criminalization of undocumented migrants affects the labor rights of migrant farmworkers in central California. She is also working with migrant farmworkers to help dispel myths of their ineligibility for workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Steve Koester is currently working with colleagues on NIH funded studies examining Hepatitis C transmission among injection drug users, women’s roles in the methamphetamine economy, opioid overdose prevention, and the impact of city ordinances on the health and well-being of homeless people. He also has a long-term interest in economic development issues in the Caribbean.
  • Marty Otañez is collaborating with a team of students, professors, and community leaders to administer a digital storytelling research project with Latina pregnant and parenting teens. Also, he is creating a book and companion video series designed to create a platform for community members to be their own policy advocates for health equities. In 2013, he is creating a webinar series for global health policy makers concerned with human rights, corporate accountability and alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers and farm workers in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Argentina and Bolivia.
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