2020 Outstanding Professor: Charlotte Sunseri

By Julia Halprin Jackson

SJSU Associate Professor of Anthropology Charlotte Sunseri.

SJSU Associate Professor of Anthropology Charlotte Sunseri is the 2019-2020 recipient of the Outstanding Professor Award. Photo: David Schmitz.

“Teaching offers a really amazing opportunity to influence young minds. I can push them in directions that make them socially responsible, ethical citizens, while helping them consider career pathways that they had not been previously exposed to.”

Charlotte Sunseri loves showing students how anthropology can be applied as a force for social and global change. As associate professor of anthropology at San Jose State University, Sunseri worked alongside native Paiute communities near Mono Lake, California, to gather the historical archives, oral histories and documentation needed for the tribe to petition the government for federal recognition.

“Petitioning the federal government allows a tribe to be recognized as a nation and have sovereignty rights,” says Sunseri. “The process is very colonial, and for many years anthropologists have played a negative role in how many groups were denied sovereignty. Now we can work with tribes to help them regain that status. This is the most important work I can do: alongside community stakeholders, I can help create more education, healthcare, clean water and land rights opportunities.”

Sunseri has developed curriculum and training opportunities to involve students in community work, helping them discover how to use their knowledge for social good. This is one of the reasons why she has been named the 2019-2020 Outstanding Professor at San Jose State.

“My own career would not be possible without Dr. Sunseri’s mentorship,” wrote U.S. Forest Service archeologist Michael Boero, ’17 MA Anthropology, in a prior teaching award nomination. “She challenged me to think impudently about the communities we serve while also displaying sincere concern for the adversities that most students face in their pursuit to help others.”

“It has been so rewarding to teach students who are learning that anthropology is important and meaningful to their lives,” says Sunseri. “They learned how native lives have been historically disenfranchised and discovered ways to help. It has been amazing to see them recognize the disparities in our communities and feel empowered to create grassroots change.”

The Outstanding Professor Award recognizes a professor for excellence in teaching effectiveness and service to the San Jose State campus community.

Julia Halprin Jackson

Julia Halprin Jackson is a writer on San Jose State University's Strategic Communications and Marketing team.

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