By Yesmar Oyarzun
Our last WAPA Features post focused on Voices of Virginia, a current research initiative started by the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA). This new project is a collaborative effort of the Association that welcomes the efforts of professional (and student!) anthropologists to work with communities in Virginia to learn about the commonalities across groups with differing political views.
The collaborative nature of this project is what brought it to my attention as an example of great leadership in anthropological research. This project involves fostering collaboration between anthropologist and a wide variety of Virginia communities. It’s also about fostering collaboration among and between communities across Virginia. I spoke with WAPA member Terilee Edwards-Hewitt, one of the regional leaders of the Voices of Virginia Project, to learn more about these collaborations.
Edwards-Hewitt, an anthropologist, teacher, and museum collections expert, heard about Voices of Virginia through WAPA. She saw Voices of Virginia as a great way to engage with her community while doing anthropology and bridging worlds, connecting with people, and facilitating human interaction, which has always been at the center of her work.Edwards-Hewitt got involved with the project because of her interest in community– both being a part of the anthropological community that WAPA facilitates, and learning more about the communities in which she lives and works. She will be leading efforts in the Annandale area for the Voices of Virginia project, which is ethnically diverse and relatively “blue”, or politically liberal. Her first efforts will be leading a team in identifying community organizations that anthropologists may partner with to identify community members. Later, she hopes to help expand efforts to more counties.Ultimately, Edwards-Hewitt wants two things from the project. One is to find out whether there is common ground between people across “red” and “blue” areas that can be expressed. The second is dissemination of this information through both academic and public media. She also encourages others’ involvement in the project.
A long-time teacher, Edwards-Hewitt is excited about how this project may bring understanding between people. Voices of Virginia offers a chance to show what we can learn from engaging with and listening to one another. This project is also an opportunity for student and professional anthropologists to add to their “professional toolbelt” by learning how to improve research and communication skills. During our talk, she reflected on how her professional development did not always take place in the classroom. Edwards-Hewitt herself credits her background in community theatre with equipping her with the communication skills to do things like take oral histories more comfortably.
It’s not too late to get involved! You can learn more at the next Voices of Virginia project meeting which will be held Monday, April 2nd, 2018 at 7pm at the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale, VA.
Yesmar Oyarzun is a global health MPH student at The George Washington University and a WAPA student member.