Student asks 'What makes an American?'
The State Press
April 16, 2008
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.
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
"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
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
The key, he said, is learning to view things from the perspective of other
"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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