RACE: Are We So Different?—An Anthropological Exhibit Comes to Seattle

RACE exhibit poster

In November 2013, the department organized four field trips for students and faculty to the Pacific Science Center exhibit Race: Are We So Different? Created by the American Anthropological Association, the exhibit explores the concept of race through a series of engaging, interactive exhibits that challenge visitors to probe deeper into this complex and often misunderstood concept that is so fundamental to our lives. The exhibit guides the viewer through three areas: the history of the concept of race; the tenuous relationship of race to the complexities of human variation; and the impact of race and racism on the social, physical, mental, and economic well-being of populations (i.e. the lived experience of race). The exhibit draws on the work of sociocultural and biological anthropologists and archaeologists. Accompanied by faculty and graduate students within our department, nearly one hundred students—both undergraduate and graduate—were able to attend, thanks to generous financial support from the UW’s Diversity Research Institute and the Undergraduate Academic Affairs office.

Students spoke favorably about the exhibit. Emphasizing the value of a historical approach to race, one undergraduate student said, “The race exhibit was truly enriching. Being able to see information and history displayed in a variety of creative ways helped to deepen my understanding about race in general.” For other students, the exhibit's experiential approach to learning made the exhibit a compelling alternative to textbook lessons. As one cultural anthropology student suggested, “The exhibit provided knowledge and experience that resonated with our class and everyday life. I feel that is was beneficial for all age groups because there is a spectrum of how we learn about things—especially race. It was a refreshing twist on the traditional textbook learning where you had every aspect of learning available from all walks of life and situations, such as visual, media, financial and demographic statistics.” Similarly, another student found the interactive features particularly helpful for exploring the complexities of race. “I enjoyed attending the race exhibit because there were different visual aids, such as videos and timelines, to explain how race is a social construction and how race plays into our history and everyday lives. My favorite activity was one where I had to listen to the recordings of voices and try to match the voice to the person it belonged to. This activity taught me that we tend to make quick judgments on others based on the way they look or speak, as well as how we perceive them to behave.”

For those who missed the exhibit while it was at the Pacific Science Center, sections of it can be viewed online at http://www.understandingrace.org. It continues to tour the country as well—so check out the schedule on the site to see if it will be hosted by a museum near you.

In February 2014, the department also held a follow-up roundtable on the complex issues involved in exploring the concept of race in the classroom. Faculty and graduate students shared specific exercises that they use to unpack race along many dimensions, and workshopped additional ideas. One common theme from all of the presentations: delving into this topic requires sensitivity, and can be challenging and at times uncomfortable, for faculty and students alike—but it remains a critical aspect of our role as anthropologists.