Fresh Faculty: Sahar Sadjadi
Issue   |   Wed, 11/13/2013 - 01:49

Sahar Sadjadi grew up in Iran, studied medicine at Tehran Univ. of Medical Sciences and received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology at Columbia Univ. Before joining Amherst College, Dr. Sadjadi was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies, The Graduate Center and City University of New York. She is an associate professor in the Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Amherst College.

Q: I noticed that your work pulls from a breadth of academic disciplines. How would you characterize your field of study, and what made you decide to pursue this?
A: My field of study is medical anthropology, which is the study of the socio-cultural dimensions of health, disease and medicine. I studied medicine in Iran at Tehran Univ. I then interned at public hospitals in Tehran. Later, with my work as emergency room physician at an impoverished region in Kurdistan at the border of Iran and Iraq, I became acutely aware that what is determining people’s health extends far beyond the scope of biomedical knowledge and our medical interventions at the hospital. Issues such as poverty, ethnic repression and women’s oppression loomed large. So I wanted to study those larger forces and conditions that affected people’s health and well-being. I was also politically engaged and passionate about social justice and was always very interested in social sciences. When I realized there were interdisciplinary fields such as medical anthropology, I decided to apply to a couple of programs and I was admitted to Columbia Univ. at a joint program between the Department of Sociomedical Sciences and Anthropology. During the Ph.D., I became increasingly interested in research in the social studies of medicine and science, how medical knowledge is produced, disseminated and practiced, how social, cultural and economic factors shape science and medicine and how, in turn, science and medicine shape our lives and cultural beliefs. My medical knowledge and background have definitely facilitated and enriched my work in this field.

Q: What is your research on and how did you come to be involved in it?
A: My doctoral dissertation research was an ethnographic study of clinical practices that have emerged around gender nonconforming and transgender children. I examined the revision of the psychiatric category, “Gender Identity Disorder in Children” for the fifth edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). In addition, I conducted fieldwork in two pediatric gender clinics, one psychiatric and one endocrine. I studied the medical, ethical and political controversies around new treatments for gender variant children such as puberty suppression which is used to prevent the development of pubertal bodily changes and is often followed by cross-sex hormones in a few years.

Q: Have you always been interested in issues of gender and sexuality?
A: Intellectually, ever since childhood. Politically, when I was 18 or 19 I became involved in the feminist movement in Iran. I owe much of what I read and learned about gender to those years and my friends in Iran. During my medical practice, I was interested in issues of women’s health and sexual health. When I moved to the United States, I joined a feminist collective in New York City. During the Ph.D., I studied extensively about sexuality and was mentored by prominent scholars of the field. And my current research reflects my intellectual interest in gender and sexuality.

Q: What classes are you teaching this and next semester?
A: This semester, I am teaching Anthropology of Sexuality and Gender and HIV/AIDS. Next semester, I will be teaching Feminist Theory and Science and Sexuality.

Q: Which aspects of Amherst do you like so far?
A: I like my students a lot. They are very thoughtful and engaged with the course material and the class and open to new and sometimes challenging ideas. They are respectful and caring. Before coming to Amherst, I had heard about the college’s initiatives in promoting diversity. However, the diversity I see in my classes exceeded my expectations. It makes all the difference as a teacher to think that you’re not just teaching students who can afford [expensive] tuitions. This has been an excellent direction in which the college has channeled their resources. I should add the Five-College students in my classes are great and have made the class more dynamic and stimulating. And, other great aspects of Amherst College are my colleagues in our department and several other faculty whom I have met who are great people and have been very kind and supportive.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Many things. Hiking, for instance. I love mountains and did a lot of mountain climbing in Iran. Around here I am happy with the hills! Outside of the literature I read for work, I enjoy reading fiction in both Persian (Farsi) and English. I also spend a significant time in maintaining relationships with my friends and family, who are spread around the world. And, I am gradually exploring the art scene around here and making new friends.