Fresh Faculty: Haile E. Cole
Issue   |   Tue, 01/23/2018 - 22:03

Haile E. Cole is a visiting assistant professor of anthropology and consortium for faculty diversity scholar. She received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin.

Q: How did you begin pursuing your area of study?
It’s been a pretty long journey. In undergrad I studied sociology and Black Studies and I just fell in love with it. It was very interesting, and I did a lot of social justice and campus organizing stuff when I was younger. Then after I graduated, I actually went to law school for a little bit and decided that it wasn’t for me — but I was still really interested in criminal justice and things like that so I decided to go to graduate school [at UT]. I was really familiar with the professors and I knew they had a really great African Diaspora Studies program, but it was a concentration in the anthropology department. And so I knew the faculty, and I knew that they did work in similar areas that I did. They were really socially conscious and aware, so I thought it was a good fit and applied for the program and obviously got in. That’s how I ended up getting my degree in anthropology but with a concentration in African Diaspora Studies.

Q: How would you describe anthropology and sociology, for those who are unfamiliar with the subjects? What are the differences or overlaps between the two subjects?
I knew you would ask that question! I feel like that’s always the question. I think there’s actually a lot of overlap, particularly when you think about some of the foundational theorists like Marx and Durkheim and Weber. Anthropology — I would describe it as the study of humans, so we have physical anthropology, we have linguistic anthropology. And I’m a cultural anthropologist, so looking at culture. I would say that one of the key differences, usually … [is] methodology ... I would say anthropology [focuses] on the details of culture instead of looking society-wide, so looking at the macro and how societies are structured. And I think that really differentiates the two, even though there are a lot of overlaps in terms of theory.

Q: Do you have a favorite ethnography, or one you found particularly influential?
... I really like “The Politics of Passion” by Gloria Wekker, and it looks at women’s relationships in Suriname. It’s one of my favorites because the writing is really really good. “Harlemworld” is also a really good one, by John Jackson. He looks at class and blackness in Harlem. The writing is amazing, there’s lots of dialogue, it’s really accessible, it’s very interesting ... I like ethnographies because they read sometimes as creative nonfiction. They are academic, but they’re interesting in the way that you’re able to write and describe and depict what the researcher is seeing.

Q: What made you decide to come to Amherst?
I was really drawn to the small liberal arts setting. I mean obviously Amherst College has a reputation that precedes it — it’s kind of a rigorous place with smart students. And for me, I really like to teach, probably more than I like to do research. I really love working with students, so I felt that a place like Amherst would allow me to get to know my students and interact and engage with them in these really intimate ways in class that you may not be able to do in a big public university. I thought it was a really good fit in that way. Also, during the interview process when I met the department and the faculty, they were just amazing. The anthropology department people are really, really cool so they were part of the sell for sure.

Q: Can you tell me about the classes that you are teaching this semester?
This semester I’m teaching Activism and Anthropology. It’s kind of a methods course; we look at how … [to] do a social-justice-oriented research project. But it’s broader in the sense that even though it’s called Activism and Anthropology, it’s more about social justice research: what does that mean, what are the challenges, how did this become a thing, why is it complicated to do social justice research or community-based research, what does that look like? That’s one of the classes that I’m teaching, and I think it’s going to be pretty cool. The other class is Culture, Race and Reproductive Health. That class is my research focus area, so I’m really excited about it. The other thing too about the class is that I come out of community organizing work, too, so what I hope to talk about in that class is looking not only at culture and reproductive health. We look at what is reproductive justice first … What does that mean [and] how do we understand reproductive justice? We also look broadly at health, so how culture impact[s]health, the history of it. We look at colonialism and race, and how that laid the foundation for modern-day medicine. And then we delve into the ways in which race and culture intersect and impact health, particularly reproductive health. It’s pretty in-depth. It’s a dense class; we do a lot of activities, and it’s mostly discussion-based. We look at different topics from health disparities, so we’re going to read some public health articles, but we’ll also talk about midwifery and organizing and some really cool components and aspects of reproductive health.

Q: Are you currently doing any research? If so, could you tell me what you are researching?
My research looks at ... black women’s maternal health disparities in the U.S. It’s kind of a hot topic right now; everyone’s really looking at it because black women have such bad outcomes, and they’re so disparate from other races, particularly white women’s outcomes, both in maternal health/maternal mortality and infant mortality. As a cultural anthropologist, what I do is take those statistics and look kind of culturally at the way that plays out. And I did it in Texas, which is my hometown, which you know, has a reputation for being bad for everything pretty much. It’s horrible to say, but it’s the truth. Recently, there was an article that came out that said that maternal mortality for black women in Texas was the worst in the developed world. It’s like in the belly of the beast basically. I was in Austin, looking at black women’s experiences, their day-to-day experiences and what does that mean for their reproduction … I’ve also been doing years of work with this organization, Moms of Color, who are working around reproductive health ... I look at policy, so all these kinds of social and cultural components, but to show that they actually have huge impacts on reproduction. It’s not just about prenatal care or whatever.

Q: Moving on to a lighter topic, what do you do in your spare time?
I hang out with my kids, which is fun most of the time. [laughs] No, they’re really cool kids. We cook and play and do things like that. But I also like to exercise; it’s a stress reliever. I do yoga. Music — I haven’t done it as much, but I like to sing. I used to be in band, which obviously I don’t have time for anymore. But I listen to my music and things like that.

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