Student asks 'What makes an American?'
The State Press (ASU WebDevil)
April 16, 2008


by Allison Denny

IDENTITY: Professor Michael Winkelman gives a lecture on how different racial and economic groups across the country develop Tuesday evening in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change building.

For white U.S. citizens, the idea of a distinct cultural background can be murky.

Michael Winkelman, who teaches courses in holistic healing and ethnic relations in the United States, spoke Tuesday night to about 50 students, addressing the idea of what it means to be an American.

Winkelman grew up in southern Louisiana and spent almost six years living in Mexico.

"I came back and had to figure out why I did and didn't identify with being an American," he said. "I didn't feel like a normal American."

Winkelman spoke as part of an honors thesis project for anthropology senior Sarah Elsasser, looking at what it means to be an American.

Elsasser, a former student of Winkelman's in Barrett, the Honors College, arranged a student exhibit in the Museum of Anthropology, where Winkelman lectured.

The exhibit, which opened April 3 and is on display through October, includes 21 pieces by student artists and three pieces by selected professors that best show the ideas behind Elsasser's project.

Elsasser said she decided on the final project because it merges her interest in art with an anthropological issue. The idea came from a course she took with Winkelman and, more specifically, from a chapter in her textbook on how many Americans of European desent feel a lack of cultural identity.

"I felt the same things," she said. "I wondered if my peers had explored the same things within themselves."

These things include a lack of any kind of cultural identification and even a lack of contact with other cultures, Winkelman said.

Winkelman said college students can end up coming to school having had little or no contact with people from different ethnic groups.

This leads to students trying to over-simplify cultures and differences, he said.

The key, he said, is learning to view things from the perspective of other cultures.
"It can fundamentally change you as a person," he said. "Once you learn to see the world from a different culture's point of view, it's hard to go back."

Complete understanding isn't what's important, Winkelman said.

"What's necessary is the right of people to be different and accepted," he said.

Criminal justice freshman Nick Mazzone attended Winkelman's lecture and said it brought up ideas about American culture he hadn't thought of before.

In a diverse society, he said, it's important to understand the value of others.

"The only way for society to work is to accept," he said.

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