Joan Barker “Anthropology is great stuff. It’s like having an owner’s manual for being a human being.”

You might expect the study of anthropology to take you quite far afield. And indeed, Joan Barker has studied tribal societies in Mali, Nigeria and the north of Ghana where, she says, “That’s where my heart is.”

But another field of study for Joan is the tough urban streets of Los Angeles. Since 1975 she’s been involved in studying the rigors of police work and its effect on law officers. Her study in this area has produced at least one success: her husband is an LAPD officer Joan met while conducting field work.

Joan’s recent receipt of the Outstanding Teachers Award, which she refers to as “delightful feedback,” is reflective of her attitude toward teaching. “It helps a lot,” says Joan, “if you’re doing the thing you’d rather be doing than anything else. I have a good time in my classes,” she continues. “And I’d rather be teaching than anything I can imagine.”

This is Joan’s first year at SMC and her classes in cultural anthropology and sex, gender and culture have kept her busy while she finishes her doctoral thesis. “This is the best place to be,” says Joan. “The orientation is completely towards students. And I’ve taught at places where the programs seems to be run by accountants.”

Cultural variation is the force which has given shape, since early childhood, to Joan’s view of the world. “When you study anthropology,” she says, “you learn to enjoy other cultures and experiment with you own. It enriches every experiences you have,” she continues, “and essentially, it lets you learn about all your options.”

​Read more stories from present and past years in the SMC Student Spotlight Archive.