For the next few weeks, the UCL Medical Anthropology blog will run a special series called ‘Advocacy Letters: Anthropological Calls for Public and Global Health Change.’ This series will showcase nine Advocacy Letters written by UCL anthropology undergraduates and postgraduates. In these letters, students use anthropological insights to advocate for change on a variety of health-related topics, including, for example, dental care, loneliness, and vaccine hesitancy.
These Advocacy Letters were originally produced as an assessment for a module I convene at UCL called Aspects of Applied Medical Anthropology. This module aims to equip students with the skills to critically evaluate and apply anthropological ideas to current issues in global and public health, covering topics like obesity, cross-border healthcare, population ageing, and Covid-19.
I was inspired to use Advocacy Letters as an assessment for this module after Emily Yates-Doerr wrote last summer about her experience using them in her own University courses in the United States (Yates-Doerr was herself inspired to use this assessment by Janelle Taylor – I am indebted to them both). Yates-Doerr found that Advocacy Letters were a powerful pedagogical tool: they helped students develop an opinion about social issues and learn how to get involved in activism. Along with these important learning outcomes, I hoped Advocacy Letters would also help students learn about applied anthropology by applying anthropology themselves.
I followed in Yates-Doerr’s footsteps and asked students to meet the following requirements in their letters: 1) advocate for some change, 2) use course materials while doing so, and 3) find a specific person to whom to address the letter. I encouraged students to take this opportunity to write about a health issue they found personally meaningful, so that they could experience bringing anthropological ideas to bear on their daily lives.
Though students were initially daunted by the irregularity of this assessment, many of them said that they found writing their Advocacy Letter both a meaningful and empowering opportunity, since it gave them an opportunity to effect change on an issue they cared about. In writing these letters, students said they more intimately understood the skills required to carry out applied, activist, and public anthropology: making anthropology relevant, writing persuasively, and identifying the right audience for their message. Some students took the opportunity to send their letters to their intended audience and I am eager to see what change their letters will catalyse.
I was deeply impressed by all my students’ Advocacy Letters and the nuance of their analyses, their well-developed and creative calls for change, and the passion with which they wrote. Their letters only confirmed my ongoing observation from teaching: anthropology students have so much to teach us about how to create a healthier and more just future.
I hope you will be inspired by their letters as much as they have inspired me.
Yates-Doerr, Emily. (2020). Advocacy Letters: An Invitation. Retrieved July 27, 2021, from Somatosphere Web site: http://somatosphere.net/2020/advocacy-letters-an-invitation.html/
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