Rachael Sena

Rachael Sena has written 4 posts for The Digital Bullpen

Skull scan: forensic anthropology at work


USF forensic anthropology student John Powell uses a 3-D scanning system to project an image of the skull onto the computer. Scanning the skull with the program is just one step that forensic anthropologists complete when creating a computerized facial reconstruction.

Passion for culture drives career in anthropology

Antoinette Jackson interviewing a descendant in Nicodemus, Kan. to learn more about the people buried at the Washington Cemetery. Photo provided by Antoinette Jackson

Antoinette Jackson left her job in Corporate America behind to pursue something more rewarding: a job in researching and preserving culture.

Now, Jackson has several grants to research such historical events and places as the Underground Railroad in Florida and the Gullah/Geechee communities along coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Jackson teaches the graduate seminar called Issues in Heritage Tourism every fall at the University of South Florida.

“My passion really started when I took a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, and toured the Gullah/Geechee community,” Jackson said. “I became fascinated by the stories they were telling me about the culture and the people in the region who were descendants of enslaved Africans.”

The Gullah/Geechee community still employs the Creole language and skills sewing sweet-grass baskets created by its ancestors.

From there, anthropology became Jackson’s hobby. While living in Chicago, she took journalism classes at Northwestern University and wrote stories about her research. She soon took a trip to Egypt and became fascinated with the culture and civilization of ancient Egyptians.

“All of the comforts that we have today, they had thousands of years ago,” Jackson said. “I realized at that point I really didn’t want to stay in corporate.”

While researching those cultures on the side, Jackson considered pursuing a doctorate in business. But, something about business didn’t sit right with her. If she was going to devote so much of her time to one program, it would have to be something she loved.

“When getting a doctorate, you need to have passion for the subject,” Jackson said. “And that’s when I thought about my research.”

Jackson chose to earn a doctorate in anthropology, which became the most rewarding thing for her. Working in that area allows Jackson to utilize all of her skills, such as business, writing and computer science skills.

“I get paid to research and write,” Jackson said. “And to watch my students become motivated with the projects that they are working on.”

Graduate student Margaret Allsopp, who is earning her doctorate in anthropology, described Jackson as a great mentor.

“She has impacted my life enormously,” Allsopp said. “I am honored to work with her.”

Allsopp said Jackson welcomed her into the graduate program when she signed up for Jackson’s undergraduate cultural anthropology class. Three years into her doctoral program, Allsopp has completed most of the required graduate courses and several research projects with Jackson. With a background in technology, Allsopp videotaped research and captured oral histories from projects in the Tampa neighborhood of Sulphur Springs and in Nicodemus, Kansas.

Today, Jackson juggles teaching and working on several projects. On one grant project, Jackson is working in coordination with the National Park Service to preserve and protect the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a federally designated national heritage area and associated communities.

“We are in the process of setting up educational programs for the community to not only preserve it, but to also help it flourish,” Jackson said.

In the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom project, Jackson works with Rosalyn Howard from the University of Central Florida to gather history of the Underground Railroad in Florida. Descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped on the Underground Railroad through Florida to the Bahamas will gather at a St. Augustine conference in June 2012 to tell their stories that Jackson and Howard will gather into an educational program for the public.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly limited the scope of the Gullah-Geechee communities to one state. It also inaccurately placed Charleston, S.C., in the wrong state and inaccurately referred to Sulphur Springs, a Tampa neighborhood, as Silver Springs, a location in Marion County.

USF anthropological researchers face tough ethical conflicts

The issues that social scientists, such as anthropologists, struggled with in the brutal and lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are only one situation of how anthropologists handle ethical conflicts in research.

According to Roberta Baer, an applied anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, the U.S. military used anthropologists in the “human terrain system” to gather cultural information in Iraq and Afghanistan. The information gathered allowed the military to gain a better understanding of the language, customs and culture of surrounding societies. The human terrain system is disputed among anthropologists because of how the military uses the information after it is gathered.

“The human terrain system is very controversial,” Daniel Lende, a medical anthropology professor at USF, said. “These anthropologists that work in teams don’t end up controlling the information (from informants) and it is shared with many other people. Oftentimes, when the express objectives of the human terrain system get mixed up with more active military objectives, there can be a greatly enhanced potential for doing harm.”

Anthropologists gather information regardless of the groups’ affiliation because it is their job to learn about different societies. When working with people from different social backgrounds, they encounter some social issues with which they might not agree or may be beyond the law.

Lende encountered social issues with his research on young drug users and abusers.

“The most important guiding principle is understanding and respecting your informant’s viewpoint,” Lende said. “And some conflicts can arise because the viewpoint of your informant isn’t always necessarily in line with dominant social norms.”

Lende said that it is important to inform the participants how they and the information collected will be used. And it’s important to make them aware that their participation was voluntary due to the illegal nature of the informants’ behaviors.

During some of her research, Antoinette Jackson, a heritage tourism professor at USF, faced historical social issues.

“A lot of my early work has been with people who are descendants of enslaved Africans or plantation communities,” Jackson said. “So I interviewed people of both sides: people who are descendants of slave owners and people who are descendants of the enslaved…People on both sides are concerned about how they are going to be represented.”

Jackson said despite the fact that her personal ethical standards were tested by the atrocious stories given in the interviews from these descendents, it was her duty to accurately represent these figures in her research.

A moral issue that Jackson encountered during her studies was the prohibition of gathering information when the informants were unwilling to be recorded or interviewed.

“The person has a right to refuse to participate in an interview,” Jackson said. “They can decide that they don’t want their material used.”

When conducting interviews, anthropologists, especially those employed at USF, have to adhere to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process. A set of questions is submitted to a review board for approval and, according to the IRB process, informed consent forms must be signed by the participants to use the information collected in their interviews.

“The question for me is when do you tell them these things and get them to sign the forms,” Jackson said. “When you present people with a set of forms that are so official-looking, they think ‘well I don’t want to sign away my rights.’ I’ve had interviews with people who have refused to sign and they’ve given me the materials or information that I want. The ethical dilemma is: What do I do?”

Jackson had to call on her ethical and professional standards to not use the information that wasn’t properly signed away by the participants.

During some of his medical research, Lende has been ethically tested when working with breast cancer patients who refused treatment. Lende described how his informants went through negative experiences with doctors in the past, which made them less likely to seek screening services. Not only did Lende have to try to understand where they were coming from, but also try to encourage the women to take the preventative tests.

Lende said, “Often times, law enforcement or government policy dictates ‘you have to do it’ model and that’s not the anthropologist model.”

While in the process of gathering information, anthropologists are required to uphold professional standards set forth by their employer and the American Anthropological Association (AAA).

According to the AAA’s Code of Ethics, “Anthropological researchers have primary ethical obligations to the people, species and materials they study and to the people with whom they work.”

“The primary reason for them (guidelines) is to protect the interest of the community, the people we work with,” Jackson said.

Taking the edge off the long commute for 20,000 USF students

While some students hunt for a parking spot at USF for an hour, Kimberly Sikorski takes that long just to arrive on campus after her daily commute from Plant City.

Like the nearly 20,000 other commuter students, Sikorski, starts the day with a road trip. At best, it takes her 30-45 minutes, but sometimes it turns out to be more than an hour. Sikorski, a junior studying ancient history, commutes five days a week during early morning traffic.

“Two weeks ago, I literally sat on the road with a dead man 10 feet away from my driver’s side door,” Sikorski said. “He had been killed when a truck hit his motorcycle. Everyone had to stop and look, so I-4 was backed up like a parking lot for well over an hour.”

With so many commuter students on campus, USF officials in Student Affairs have devoted an entire division on their website to support and assist the commuter population. Commuter Student Life can be found at The website has multiple interactive links to other organizations and services, such as the Campus Activities Board and the Bull Runner schedule.

The newest bonus for commuters is the SkyPad, which opened on the fourth floor of the Marshall Student Center early September. During winter of last year, new furnishings and outlets were provided for students to utilize if they don’t have a comfortable study environment on-campus in the commuter study lounge in MSC 4101.

“We’re intentionally trying to reach out to commuters,” said Dr. Kevin Banks, dean for students. “We’ve renovated and created additional study spaces to make for a more commuter-friendly campus.”

According to Parking and Transportation Services administrative specialist Mary Damiano, USF sold 19,520 “S” permits during the first couple of weeks of the 2011 fall semester. Non-resident, or “S,” permits range from $87-174, depending on how long the permit is valid.

Five days a week, senior Jose Suarez, who is studying industrial engineering, braves an hour and 15-minute drive from his home in New Port Richey to USF. Upon arriving at campus, Suarez must battle with other commuters for the few precious parking spots available.

“I do leave about 2 hours prior to any class to make sure I have enough time to make it on time and find a good parking spot,” Suarez said. “Usually traffic isn’t too bad during the hour’s commute, since I take back roads to minimize time stopping at traffic lights.”

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