Freshman anthropology class researches UA student behavior

Margaret Wilbourne

While many students think of Lakeside Dining as an all-day food buffet, a small group of freshmen see it as an observation room. These anomalies belong to the one-hour credit, Freshman Learning Community class “The Exotic Undergraduate,” taught by Elizabeth Cooper of the anthropology department.

Anthropology consists of the study of human beings and requires many methods of observing and organizing gathered “human data,” which can be hard to explain in large entry level classes.

“The Exotic Undergraduate,” however, allows freshmen interested in the field of anthropology to walk away with a more enhanced idea of what it is that anthropologists do.

“So far the class has been really helpful because we can discuss topics from our Intro to Cultural Anthropology class in more depth,” Lauren Nolan, a freshman majoring in anthropology and participant of the course, said.

Beyond discussion, “The Exotic Undergraduate” also gives students a chance to get first-hand experience as an anthropologist working in the field, or in this case, the Quad.

Students first read the book “My Freshmen Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student” by Rebekah Nathan, which describes the story of an undercover teacher who used a college campus to observe the “exotic undergraduate.” After reading the book, the class then takes Nathan’s experiments and recreates them on the University’s campus.

Students have the option to decide what they would like to do with the information they collect, and in last year’s Exotic Undergraduate, the class chose to take on two research projects.

For these projects, the class traveled to several dining halls to look into how students naturally segregate themselves. The differences between the bulletin board messages in the honors and non-honors residence halls were also studied. The students’ results were showcased at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society in Birmingham, Ala. The research was also published in “Joshua,” the University’s undergraduate journal of science and health.

“From this course, I gained confidence in my ability to conduct an experiment from the earliest stages of brainstorming and development, to data-collection and analysis and eventually to presentation,” Kelly Konrad, a sophomore majoring in French who took the class last year, said. “Completing this process as a freshman proved [to be] a valuable experience.”

In addition to becoming familiar with cultural anthropology and the field of research, “The Exotic Undergraduate” also introduces students to the archaeological aspect of the discipline through field trips to Moundville Archaeological Park and a slave cemetery, both in Tuscaloosa. Plans for a private tour of the University’s Natural History museum have also been set up.

FLC classes are restricted to small numbers and connect students to a faculty member who acts as a mentor.

“FLC classes offer a fun introduction to the University and a way to put down roots,” Cooper said. “They help freshmen connect with one another.”