In a special weekly series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring a faculty member from one of our 13 departments. We asked questions about why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.
Human-environment interactions, globalization, development, and health are complexly interwoven with profound implications for humans and non-humans. The Department of Anthropology faculty seek to understand and facilitate students’ learning of these interactions.
“I see one of my jobs as unpacking the empirical complexity of the world, and troubling people’s assumptions about why things are the way they are,” explains Assistant Professor of Geography Heidi Hausermann. “We currently live in a world of enormous wealth disparity, in the U.S. and beyond, and such inequality has huge implications for the well-being of people and other living things. Sometimes – for various reasons – the underlying social and historical factors that shape inequality are hard to see.”
Hausermann moved to Colorado in August 2018 to join anthropology and geography faculty in Colorado State University’s Department of Anthropology. In addition to offering programs in anthropology, the department has a robust undergraduate geography program and Hausermann has been a perfect addition.
“My family decided to move to Fort Collins from New Jersey for various reasons,” says Hausermann. “CSU is a great university. We also wanted to be closer to family and love the outdoors.” In addition to environmental sustainability research happening across campus, Hausermann appreciates the department’s focus in human-environmental research, both contemporary and in the past.
Teaching at Colorado State University
Hausermann taught her first class, “Gender, Culture, and Medicine,” at CSU during the fall semester. “The students were really smart, engaged, and thoughtful,” says Hausermann. “We had terrific discussions, sometimes about difficult topics like mental health and addiction. They liked digging into the complexity of health issues, including those that have impacted their lives.”
She enjoys connecting and learning from her students, all different and unique. “I enjoy making the material relatable to their lives,” explains Hausermann. “Health is something most students can relate to – disease, illness, stigma, medical practice and knowledge. This can be hard in some ways because they all know people who have suffered, or have themselves suffered, but I think it’s important to work through difficult topics carefully and respectfully in the classroom.”
Herbal Treatment for Buruli Ulcer
Like with teaching, Hausermann connects and learns from the people she meets in the field. She is interested in the ways people are able to maintain and transform livelihoods, disease treatment, and cultural practices in the context of injustice.
“I have a project in Ghana that studies nonwestern treatment for a skin disease called Buruli ulcer,” explained Hausermann. “Most people who seek herbal treatments simply cannot afford to go to clinics, and I’ve been so inspired by the dynamic treatment spaces herbalists create.”
She started the Buruli ulcer project thinking that it would be depressing but found it to be the opposite – very inspiring. “Nonwestern treatments can be very participatory and based on mutual respect and dialogue,” says Hausermann. “Herbalists don’t charge for treatment. They believe their knowledge of plant medicine is a gift from God or ancestors, and so it would be unethical to charge patients. Sometimes patients gift them things like cassava or chickens if treatment is successful. These systems are very different from western medicine, which also exists in Ghana, of course; it’s been fun and hopeful to learn about how herbalists understand and practice medicine.”
Ethnographic research can be fun and interesting, and experiences can surprise the researcher. Once, as a post-doctoral scholar working in Ghana, Hausermann recalls, “I went hunting with the kids and killed a giant rat with a slingshot. Now, when I go back to that particular community, all the kids want me to go hunting with them. But I’ve ‘hung up’ the slingshot. My days of hunting giant rats are over.”
A career fusing expertise, passion, and strengths
As an undergraduate at Willamette University in Oregon, Hausermann majored in environmental science and completed an eye-opening study abroad program in Tanzania. “There was an independent study portion of the program — we had to go off by ourselves and conduct a project. I interviewed rural Tanzanians about a new national park,” says Hausermann. “Udzungwa National Park had been recently created, and people were excluded from collecting firewood, thatching grasses and medicinal herbs on traditional land.” This experience was her first taste of ethnographic fieldwork that would later be used extensively in her research.
After graduation, she traveled to South Korea to teach English for the Fulbright Scholar Program and found out she was passionate about teaching. Hausermann continued to teach after returning to the United States. She decided to apply to graduate school after realizing higher education reconciled her love for teaching and investigating questions related to human-environment and health complexities. Hausermann completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona with minors in anthropology and Latin American studies.
On top of completing geography graduate degrees with an anthropology focus, it seems like she was meant to join a department comprised of both geographers and anthropologists. “I wanted to be an archaeologist growing up after seeing Indiana Jones,” laughed Hausermann. Her experiences and interests in anthropology, geography, and environmental science have found the perfect home in the Department of Anthropology at CSU.