Justin Dunnavant Welcomed As Scholar-In-Residence at Occidental College

Justin Dunnavant, assistant professor of anthropology and core faculty member of the Cotsen Institute, has been honored with the 2022 Stafford Ellison Wright Black Alumni Scholar-In-Residence award from Occidental College in Los Angeles. His residency took place through online lectures and presentations on February 16 and 17.


The Stafford Ellison Wright Endowment enables “select esteemed scholars whose work on Black life and culture has made a significant contribution and whose research will excite and engage the entire Oxy community,” according to Occidental College President Harry J. Elam Jr., who introduced the first lecture. Created by the Black Alumni Organization at Occidental College, the endowment honors its first Black graduates, who all graduated in 1952: Janet Stafford, George F.  Ellison, and Barbara Bowman Wright. The residency is by invitation only and includes a financial award.


As part of his residency, Dunnavant gave a public lecture with the title In Search of Maroon Geographies: Archaeologies of African Fugitivity in the Virgin Islands” and participated in a panel discussion with the title New Approaches to Caribbean History and Heritage.” He was praised for his work in “exploring the remains of shipwrecks to investigate the ecological effects of the slave trade with an eye towards current-day connections,” according to Regina Freer, professor of politics and member of the Stafford Ellison Wright Committee. “His work is community-connected and he is passionate about training future maritime archaeologists. We are so excited to have him with us,” she added.


Dunnavant described his approach to the Maroon geographies lecture as being “from the water perspective and GIS perspectives.” His second lecture “was framed towards an intergenerational conversation,” he said. “The mentor I was in conversation with, Dr. ChenziRa Davis Kahina,” has been working in Black studies since the 1980s,  “and is able to look at it from an historical perspective,” he explained.


He also addressed two classes, one in biology and the other in African-American studies. To prepare for those presentations, he got the syllabi from the respective professors, so he knew “what they’ve been talking about and what they’ve been reading.” Because he does so much interdisciplinary work, “I try to tailor my conversation around the disciplines that they are coming from. So for biology, we’re talking about ecological work, about coral science and coral mining,” he noted. He also tries to explain to them that these many fields fall within anthropology and archaeology. “I’m sort of trying to get them to convert over.”


His recruitment of young people into anthropology and archaeology began with his work in the Virgin Islands, where he started a youth training program. “We take middle and high-school age kids and teach them archaeology. So from that, we’ve adopted this mindset where everywhere we go, we have to be able to translate the work we do to a younger audience. And that was something I’ve been adamant about.” Before coming to UCLA, he did a piece for Hulu, where “they animated me,” he points out. “I wanted something that would attract young people,” not only to his work, but to the fields in which he explores.


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Published on March 7, 2022.