Frequently Asked Questions Regarding
the Community Action Project

1. How does the project work?

2.  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. 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.