Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Karen Velasquez Anthropology and Co-op

Originally from Queens, I am a cultural anthropologist specializing in the anthropology of education, workplace and labor migration studies, sociolinguistics, and immigrant populations in the U.S. My current work revolves around understanding discourses of cultural and linguistic diversity, and how minority populations are represented in these discourses. One interesting aspect of my work as an Assistant Professor of Co-operative Education at Antioch is that I often apply my anthropological perspectives to my co-op practices. I think it is important to support students as they engage with significant social issues in new and foreign social contexts, and navigate the demands of their co-ops. A co-op experience, much like anthropological fieldwork, can be a profoundly personal and transformative experience. Thus, I see my co-op role as closely tied to my anthropological perspectives on work, education, language, and cultural diversity.

For example, as part of my efforts to develop meaningful international co-op opportunities for students, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico earlier this year to establish new partnerships with six community organizations in San Cristobal. These organizations, developed and operated by residents of San Cristobal, offer a variety of health, social, and education resources to low-income and indigenous populations in Chiapas. Currently, five Antioch students are undertaking their summer co-ops in these organizations, working closely with locals to address some of this Mexican state’s most pressing and critical social issues. In my co-op course, I have asked students to discuss their processes of becoming part of these new cultural and workplace contexts; the challenges and opportunities presented by the necessity to adapt to different world-views and practices. Several students in this group have taken anthropology courses and are applying concepts from the classroom to better understand their work in Chiapas. As their co-op advisor, I am excited to see how students’ projects and work experiences unfold.

This fall, I will continue my sociolinguistic research in Mexico. I have received a multi-year Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) Expanding Collaborations grant to do linguistic landscaping fieldwork in Mexico City. I seek to illuminate how diverse languages and cultures in Mexico City play a role in the construction and transformation of Mexico City’s urban form. I am particularly interested in how discourses of diversity are constructed in the city, and the extent to which dominant narratives on the city acknowledge and incorporate the voice of linguistically and culturally diverse inhabitants. I am very excited to have an Antioch anthropology student research collaborator join me in the fall to assist with data collection and analysis.

I am also currently doing research on the Welcome Dayton plan and immigrant-friendly initiatives in Dayton, Ohio. Through discourse analysis, I am analyzing the ways in which diversity and inclusion efforts are defined, framed, and carried out by policymakers and community organizations seeking to attract new immigrants to the city. My research will be presented in November at the 2015 American Anthropological Association meeting in Denver, Colorado. I hope that I can bring these findings to Antioch and create conversations about the changing demographic landscapes of Ohio and the U.S. I also believe this research can potentially inform my work on the College’s Diversity Task Force, which is building its own language, discourse, and vision on diversity and inclusivity.

Additionally, I have recently signed a book contract with the University of Nebraska Press to publish my work, Latino Immigrants in Koreatown, New York City: Transcending Cultural and Linguistic Boundaries (forthcoming, 2017). This book is based on the fieldwork research I conducted for my Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University, and will be a part of a University of Nebraska Press series on Contemporary Anthropology of North America. In the book, I explore the interactions between Korean and Latino immigrants in Korean food businesses around Queens and Manhattan, to gain a better understanding of the interesting ways in which Koreatown workers use language to communicate, accomplish work together, and negotiate their positions in the workplace.