Frequently Asked Questions Regarding
the Community Action Project

1. How does the project work?

2. Does the project really help students without increasing my work load?

3. As I understand it, I can select from one of three periods when my class will participate, with other classes across the United States and Canada, in the project. When are these three time periods?

4. What schools have participated in the project to date and what do some of the teachers who have participated say about it?

5. If I have a large class, can the TAs basically run the project with limited supervision from myself? What is the value of the project for the TAs?

6. You refer to the forthcoming WHY A PUBLIC ANTHROPOLOGY? What is the book about and why is it being used?

7. How do I learn more about Public Anthropology's Community Action Website project?

1. How does the project work?

Conducted each fall and spring, the Project involves more than 30 schools/year from across North America.  The Project reinforces key skills students need for meaningful lives and careers – critical thinking, effective communication, and active citizenship  It draws students toward (a) thoughtful analyses of a heated scientific/politicall debate,  (2) more effective writing skills, (3) positive ways to engage others who disagree with them, and (4) how, even with heated differences separating them, students can find common ground with others to collectively address problems.

(a) Each semester/term, teachers select a two-and-a-half-week time period, from one of three options, for when they wish to participate in the Project.  (The bunching of schools together, called Action Periods, allows different schools to collectively work in concert on the Project.)  The Project is done outside of class on a student’s own time.  During the two-and-a-half-week period, students spend roughly three hours on its two key ssignments – (1) writing a letter seeking to find “common ground” with those the student disagrees with on a heated scientific/political debate (currently climate change) and (2) carefully evaluating the letters written on this topic by students from other schools.
(b) Students register for the project at  In registering,  students pay a fifteen dollar (U.S.) registration fee which allows them to use the Project’s software (which includes a separate webpage for each student), free technical help, and a free on-line copy of the initial chapters of Why a Public Anthropology.  These chapters provide an overview of cultural anthropology plus examples of how students can address important student concerns related to their college careers -- including a section on how, using anthropological insights, students might successfully address the costs and strains of university life.  The registration fee funds the Project, related projects at the Center for a Public Anthropology, and, most importantly, the Center’s open access publishing series.

(c) Following Ruth Benedict's famous phrasing - making "the world safe for human differences" -- students write thoughtful letters to those who disagree with them on an important issue, such as climate change, seeking to find common ground so they can address the problem together. Students read background information and write 400-800-word letters to those with whom they disagree on the issue, seeking not only “common ground” but, hopefully, ways they can collaborate together in addressing the problem together. Students tend to spend between 1 ½ and 2 hours on this assignment.

(d)  During the second week, students anonymously evaluate four letters from other students without knowing who wrote them or which schools they are from.  Students evaluate these letters on four criteria and, for each criterion for each paper, provide a one to two sentence explanation justifying their assessment.  During the evaluative process, students are drawn into reflecting not only on the perspectives presented in other students’ letters, but also on how they themselves might improve on their writing.  Being active graders, students tend to take the process more seriously than with standard writing exercises. Students usually spend between 40 and 60 minutes on this assignment.  (The software measures how much time students spend evaluating letters, so teachers can determine if some students are not taking the process seriously.)

(e) Teachers can also offer an extra credit assignment, if they wish, during the last ½ week of the Project.  The extra credit assignment involves writing a 300 plus word essay on how anthropology might effectively address a pressing social concern.  Students who complete the assignment have two extra points added to their grade.

(f)  The top five percent of the letters for each class are displayed on a class website so students can see models for improvement.  Roughly 2/3rds of the students in a class read over these letters after they go up on the class website.  Students, whose letters are highlighted, receive a certificate of recognition which is often presented in class to applause.  Because these highlighted students’ work was evaluated by various schools from across North America, a link to the website is sent to the school’s public relations office noting the success of the school’s students in an international competition.  Frequently the public relations office publishes an article on these students and the class.  If teachers desire, the highlighted letters can also be sent to their chairs and deans.

(g)  When feasible, students are also encouraged to put these letters into blogs and/or send them to various media as opinion pieces.  The letters become a means for actively participating in public discussions about climate change.

Note: The project works best when it is a stipulated class assignment and constitutes perhaps 10-15% of the final grade. When students do the project on an optional basis, many do not complete it -- thereby affecting the peer review process of other students. Making the project an optional assignment is only allowed in exceptional circumstances with formal permission from the project's webmaster.

2. Does the project really help students without increasing my work load?

Once students register, the project basically runs itself.  However, if teachers wish, they can check in at any time on how their class and individual students are progressing.  Until students complete a particular week’s assignment, they get daily reminders.  Teachers and TAs need not remind students to complete their weekly assignments.

Some teachers may wish to discuss in class the anthropological dynamics involved in the climate change debate.  But they need not do so if, for example, their classes are already planned out.  Such an in-class discussion is certainly not required.  Most students, based on the data presented, like the process of thinking through their positions on climate change and, critically, seeking out common ground with those they disagree with on it.  Students also find the assessment of other students’ letters valuable, not only because they get to assess other students’ letters but because, in the process, they also learn how to improve their own writing.

When the Project is completed, a teacher receives an excel sheet with the grades for all the students in a class.  The grades are based on four students assessing the student’s letter.  A student receives an overall grade plus a range of comments (drawn from assessments of the four criteria by four different students).  Students who are upset with their grades have the option of requesting their teachers re-grade their letters. But to take advantage of this option, they must write a 50-word explanation of why they feel their letters deserve a different grade.  Less than 2% of a class choose this option, perhaps because, as many students acknowledge, teachers tend to be harder graders than students.  Still, some feel they have been unfairly graded and welcome the opportunity to have another assessment to reassure them their letter was properly graded.

The web pages are designed so TAs, especially in large classes, are able to oversee the project with limited guidance from the teacher. Class sizes for the project range from under 30 to over 800.

All technical problems are handled by the webmaster – usually within several hours of receiving them.  Neither teachers nor TAs need deal with them.  Since students’ problems tend to focus on a limited number of issues, they are usually readily solved.

3. As I understand it, I can select from one of three periods when my class will participate, with other classes across the United States and Canada, in the project. When are these three time periods?

Each of the three periods is termed an Action Period -- because, it is when the "action" takes place. For Fall 2021, the Action Periods are: (1) SEPTEMBER 13 - SEPTEMBER 29, (2) OCTOBER 4 - OCTOBER 20, and (3) OCTOBER 25 - NOVEMBER 10.

4. What schools have participated in the project to date and what do some of the teachers who have participated say about it?

A List of Some Schools That Have Participated in the
Community Action Website Over the Past Several Years

Agnes Scott College
Bloomsburg University
Brigham Young University
California State University, Northridge
Central Florida University
College of DuPage
Colorado Mesa University

East Carolina University
Eastern Washington University
Florida International University
Florida State University
George Mason University
Hamline University
Hawaii Pacific University
Houston Cmmunity College

Hunter College
Indiana University
Kent State University
Los Angeles Southwest Community College
Macalester College
MacEwan University
Michigan State University
Montana State Univeristy
Montclair State University
Northern Arizona University
Okanagan College
Plattsburgh State College
Rutgers University, Newark
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville
Southern Methodist University
Sam F. Austin State University
San Francisco State University
Sul Ross State University
Syracuse University
University of Albany (SUNY)
University of Binghamton (SUNY)
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Central Florida

University of Cincinnati
University of Delaware
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Guelph
University of Idaho
University of Illinois, Chicago
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
University of Iowa
University of Kentucky
University of Louisville
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Missouri
University of Montana
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
University of Nevada, Reno
University of New Hampshire

University of New Mexico
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
University of North Texas
University of Notre Dame
University of Oklahoma
University of Saskatchewan
University of South Carolina
University of South Florida
University of Toronto, Mississauga
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Windsor
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Wisconsin, Stout
University of Victoria
Utah State University
Utica College
Vassar College
Washington State University
Western Washington University
Wichita State University
Wilfrid Laurier University

William and Mary College
York College (CUNY)
York University

A Sample of Quotes from Teachers
Who Have Participated in the Project

The students in my introductory cultural anthropology course became far more engaged with issues of important social issues. It helped them think more broadly about the role of the social sciences in analyzing cultural and ethical conflicts occurring in the world today.
-- Julie Skurski, University of Michigan

The project challenges students to think beyond the traditional confines of a large introductory class and to critically examine important social issues relating to the practice of anthropology and global citizenship. Many found it to be a deeply empowering experience.
-- Yin Lam, University of Victoria

For a large introductory course (with an enrollment in the hundreds), it is difficult to find projects that provoke students to actively engage with the fundamental ideas and ideals of anthropology. The Community Action Website did that for my classes this year. The project encouraged students to recognize the anthropological perspective as a morally-positive way of thinking and acting in the world. My students appreciated the opportunity to present their opinions on an important social issue. They came to see anthropology as focused on subjects and ideas of relevance to their lives.
-- J. Dwight Hines, University of California-Santa Barbara

My freshman and sophomore students, mostly pioneer-college-goers, have really benefitted from participating in the Public Anthropology Website Project. The Project encouraged and empowered them to apply new-found critical reasoning and writing skills to real world problems, both globally and in their home communities.
-- Christina von Mayrhauser, California State University, Northridge

The Community Action Website Project allowed my students to exchange ideas with students from across North America on important social issues. Students appreciated the opportunity to see how peers craft their own perspectives. Students also came to appreciate the power of anthropology to "make a difference" in today's world.
-- Karl Schmid, York University

Public Anthropology’s Community Action Website engaged my students with the potential of anthropology as an activist discipline. They loved it.
-- Carolyn Nordstrom, University of Notre Dame

5. If I have a large class, can the TAs basically run the project with limited supervision from myself? What is the value of the Project for TAs?

In large classes, TAs usually supervise the project. The value for TA's assisting with the project is that they help foster an online intellectual student community that critically considers ethical issues central to the discipline. It offers them a skill they can highlight on their CVs when they apply for teaching positions after they receive their PhDs. It should be stressed the TAs do not have major, time-consuming responsibilities. Their main responsibilities are (a) discussing the issue, when appropriate, with students, (b) encouraging students to read the directions provided and follow the specified deadlines stipulated in emails that students receive from the webmaster, and (c) requesting a student email the webmaster if the student encounters a technical problem.

6. You refer to WHY A PUBLIC ANTHROPOLOGY? What is the book about and why is it being used?

WHY A PUBLIC ANTHROPOLOGY? emphasizes the power of anthropology to change the world and, in doing so, acts as a foundation for Public Anthropology’s Community Action Website. In analyzing anthropology – as a discipline, as a social structure, and as a body of knowledge – the book emphasizes anthropology needs to grow beyond its present dynamics and styles. The book offers a strategy for moving anthropology from the treadmill of publications that few read to playing a major role in addressing public problems. It offers a means for revitalizing the discipline and realizing anthropology’s vision for improving the human condition through the understanding of human differences.

Chapter 1: Cultural Anthropology's Challenge

Chapter 2: The Power of Cultural Anthropology to Address the World's Problems

7. How do I learn more about the Public Anthropology's Community Action Website project?

If you would like to have your introductory class participate in Public Anthropology's Community Action Project or if you have questions regarding the project, please email the webmaster at: It is best to email the webmaster as soon as you have questions or decide to participate.