Chelsea Steiner’s Indonesia Journey


Northern Sulawesi’s latitude made for indistinguishable division points between sky and sea.

Along with nine other students, Chelsea Steiner recently returned from the in-country portion of the SOAN 312 course: Indonesia and Southeast Asia in Cultural Context. After a semester of study on Indonesian cultural and environmental topics, students set out to spend three weeks abroad, divided between Jogjakarta, the ‘cultural heart’ of the country, and the ecologically rich national parks of North Sulawesi. She sent us these photos, and thoughts about her experience.

After nearly 24 hours of continuous flying and hanging out in airports, we arrived in Jogjakarta. Almost immediately, we were invited to observe a class at Atma Jaya University. This was perhaps the most boisterous introduction to studying in Indonesia—while in the United States, we had grown accustomed to a sense of staid formality within the classroom, but at Atma Jaya, all bets were off. We watched presentations on social and gender theories that were demonstrated using wayang kulit, Javanese shadow puppets, and experienced a much more playful, engaging attitude towards learning. Students laughed loudly, hooted and hollered, and called out in response to the ideas that were presented. They applauded our efforts when we attempted to introduce ourselves in Indonesian and turned what we expected to be an exercise in staying awake into a fun and engaging lesson. Over the course of the trip, we adopted the practice of loudly applauding anyone who answered a question in class, which I’m seriously considering attempting to introduce into American classrooms.


New friends at our homestay stringing up kerupuk putih for games.

Our peers at Atma Jaya University were certainly the highlight of the trip for me, and were integral in both keeping us safe (crossing streets in Jogja is hard) and explaining aspects of Indonesia we did not quite understand. In Jogjakarta, they had a good laugh at watching us marvel at the weird, splendid variety of cuisine available, and introduced us to their favorite foods. They became our ambassadors to Indonesian culture, and we bonded over taking selfies, a mutual love of Taylor Swift, and pedas food. When it came time to leave for Sulawesi, we spent the night before at a karaoke bar, dancing and belting out the cheesiest songs we could find.


A little girl being shielded by her older brother while they watch a snake at one of Jogjakarta’s animal markets.

The pace of Northern Sulawesi was decidedly different from Jogja. We spent days exploring rainforests, and snorkeling around reefs to observe brightly colored fish. On Bunaken Island, Northern Sulawesi and in Manado, I saw examples of corruption in everyday life, and was fascinated at the responses to it: bridges that were taking millennia to build with funds that had gone missing, park entry tags that had stopped being enforced—the list goes on. But what I found most fascinating was that the people I talked to weren’t pessimistic about the corruption, but saw politics as engaging and a catalyst for change. It made the political apathy that is so visible in the United States feel so extraordinarily diminishing and circuitous.


A farmer plowing a field to prepare it for planting rice in Pongol, outside of Jogjakarta.

One thing that I found interesting about Jogja and Northern Sulawesi was the interaction between people of different faiths. We had discussed often in class the syncretism of Indonesia, and the diversity of religions in that predominately Muslim country, but I found it captivating to observe. In a mall, I watched a stylishly dressed woman with a color coordinated jilbab walk arm-in-arm with a woman who was wearing a t-shirt that referenced her love of Jesus. But these interactions occur in the face of a government that requires individuals to report their religion on their national identification cards, and one of our peers at Atma Jaya stated that he had been given a hard time for reporting as Christian.

Leaving Indonesia was difficult, if only because I feel like I still have so much to learn.

Thanks, Chelsea. We hope to offer SOAN 312 again in the future. Please contact Gareth Barkin if you’d like more information.

Chelsea Steiner is a senior in the Sociology & Anthropology Department, pictured here in front of Manado Tua, a volcanic island off the coast of North Sulawesi.

Chelsea Steiner is a senior in the Sociology & Anthropology Department, pictured here in front of Manado Tua, a volcanic island off the coast of North Sulawesi.

Andrew Talks with Migrant Rights

Hi all,

Journalist Mona Kareem with Migrant Rights recently interviewed me about my research. The full interview is linked here, and I’ve pasted the first question and answer below. Note that a fairly lively discussion emerged in the comments on Facebook as well.

In this conversation with Andrew Gardner, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Puget Sound, we discuss migration policies in the Gulf region. For over a decade, Gardner has researched migration in Bahrain and Qatar exploring the structural hardships that immigrants are faced with in the region. He is the author of City of Strangers: Gulf Migration and The Indian Community in Bahrain and editor of Constructing Qatar: Migrant Narratives from the Margins of the Global System.

A transnational laborer in Qatar, with a sign indicating his monthly salary. Photograph by Kristin Giordano, from the exhibit Skyscrapers and Shadows.

A transnational laborer in Qatar, with a sign indicating his monthly salary. Photograph by Kristin Giordano, from the exhibit Skyscrapers and Shadows.

In 2012, Bahrain claimed to have ‘abolished’ the kafala system, only renaming it. Also lately Qatar made a similar announcement, without offering a detailed plan. Do you expect any positive changes following these promises?

Obviously, the details of Qatar’s plan matter a lot, particularly since we have Bahrain’s experience to gauge these changes against. Note that while I published a book about my research in Bahrain in 2002 and 2003, I never have had the opportunity to return to the island, so I have no firsthand knowledge or understanding of the impact of the changes that were instigated (and as an anthropologist, I value that firsthand knowledge above all else). Nonetheless, the changes to the migration system in Bahrain, hailed as the “abolishing of the kafala,” were more about relocating the right for migrants to change positions from their sponsor to the LMRA. At the time, this could be read as a fairly substantial change to the kafala, but the research I’ve read and the migrants I’ve talked with don’t describe any substantial change in their experiences on the island. Thinking about the region as a whole, in my mind all of this points to a few basic conclusions.

First, we need to recognize that these headlines and declarations of abolishing the kafala are really the prime currency resulting from these proposed, incremental changes, for they allow the Gulf States to broadcast their evolving positionality in a global index of modernity that, thankfully, I suppose, includes EuroAmerican-styled ideas about individual human rights.

Second, I think it is important that we understand the kafala not as a singular and stable thing, but rather as a collection of laws, practices, norms, and traditions that undergird this contemporary migration system. Interwoven with it is a globally-accepted system of legal contracts that really achieve many of the same ends — locking migrants to particular jobs for specific periods of time, for example.

Third, and related: so while aspects of the kafala may be “abolished” in some GCC states in the coming decade, I am not certain that we’ll see any substantial changes in the migrant experience, as these contracts foster the same kind of control that is the critical and criticized facet of the kafala. The barometer by which we evaluate that change in any of the GCC states should be migrants’ experiences.

Have you noticed any shifts in official narratives about migrant issues?

For more of the conversation, continue here.


Abigail Phillips and Graduate School at the University of Georgia

Denise Glover stays in contact with many of SOAN alumni, and sent this along: One of our graduates from a few years back, Abigail Phillips, stays in touch with me, and occasionally I’ll even get to visit with her when she’s in the area. A few weeks ago I’d asked if she would like to write something for the SOAN blog, since she has been doing such interesting work since leaving UPS. Here is what she wrote.

Just over a year ago, I was in the running for a job as Head Garden Manager
with The Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans (ESYNOLA). I’d gotten to know the staff there really well through my work with FoodCorps in Mississippi, I’d worked hard to use them as a model organization for the Server Members in Mississippi and really appreciated their guidance. They offered the job to a landscape architect. I can’t say I wasn’t bummed to miss out on working with such a well-functioning organization, but I am truly grateful for their introduction to the field of Landscape Architecture (LA). I felt my learning had plateaued with my work for FoodCorps, so I was on the hunt for my next step. I knew I was interested in the built environments, how people use and abuse these sites (hello SOAN!), problem solving, southern culture and art. I loved that my work with FoodCorps provided the tools to dig deeper into all of these interests, but I wanted a mentor, somebody that could teach me more than I could teach myself. It occurred to me, that I might like going back to school. Before hearing from the ESYNOLA staff, I would’ve assumed LA’s focus on designing parking lots, subdivisions and golf courses… fun, right? After speaking with ESYNOLA’s staff I realized the field of LA aligns with my interests almost perfectly. I also realized that its awfully hard to land an internship at an LA firm with a degree in Comparative Sociology and Environmental Policy.

Abi with Pecan Park Elementary students in their garden, in Jackson, Mississippi.

Abi with Pecan Park Elementary students in their garden, in Jackson, Mississippi.

It was late May when I decided to pursue an advanced degree, weeks before all of the LA school applications were due, and I knew nothing about what program would suit me well… so I did what any Millennial would do, I google searched “Top 10 Landscape Architecture Graduate programs.” The University of Georgia made the list, was close enough to Mississippi that I could keep supporting FoodCorps’ work there, responded quickly to my application and offered an undeniable aid package. How could I say no? Within 2 weeks of considering grad school, I accepted their offer- without a clue of what I was really heading into. I’m still unsure of whether or not I’d recommend this decision-making methodology, the last year of school has pumped me up and knocked me over countless times.

Abi showing a research project and hand drawing exercise from her first semester at the University of Georgia.

Abi showing a research project and hand drawing exercise from her first semester at the University of Georgia.

I was over-prepared in some ways and under-prepared in others, for the incredible challenge that grad school is. I’ve spent countless hours in the last year drawing strait lines, glueing models together, adjusting angles to a degree of hilarity and wondering if I made the right decision. I’ve spent even more hours learning about the affect of site design on an individual and community’s well being in terms of socioeconomics, health, efficiency and creativity, ecological diversity and general safety. I’ve spent hours on top of this applying new insight to the sites that I design, collecting feedback from site visitors on what works and why, considering how to use my LA degree as a beneficial social service, and knowing that I made the right decision in pursuing this degree. I’m just beginning research assisting an LA in New Orleans who is creating a set of “designs” to implement on the city’s 4000 vacant lots in order to reduce maintenance costs, improve ecological diversity and potentially improve perceptions of and within neighborhoods that contain multiple vacant lots. His project is being implemented in 3 neighborhoods as a test run, to determine the most effective designs. My contribution focuses on the neighborhood residents’ perceptions of the project- whether they are supportive, offended, uninterested or something else entirely. I’m using a variety of methods over the next 2 years to collect data, many of which stem from SOAN practices.

I’m incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to pursue my interests with the rigor that this program provides, but reluctant to encourage anyone to pursue grad school on a whim. I was over prepared for this program because of the work I’d done outside of a school setting, I was underprepared for the amount of time I would have to obsessively dedicate to things like calculating pipe sizes, drawing strait lines (thousands of strait lines) and reading about previous trends in the field that in many ways spurred injustice. If you’re considering going into grad school right after undergrad, don’t. Go do something outside the classroom. Learn by helping people with anything from advocating food sovereignty to joining a small business to traveling and sharing your stories. Make an impact. Make even more mistakes. Decide whether you need more formal training or not, and don’t agree to take on grad school debt that you won’t be able to pay-off when you finish the degree. Do consider grad school, after a few years of working, if you’ve identified an issue or problem that you don’t know how to address, if you require more guidance to pursue your interest. Let me know if you have any questions about using SOAN through Landscape Architecture, you can contact me here. And good luck!


Congratulations on a Great Poster Session, Seniors!

Sociology and Anthropology Department seniors conducted a poster session this past Wednesday, April 30th, to present their senior thesis research projects. The session was well attended, and showcased many thought provoking studies spanning a wide variety of topics and methodological approaches. Here are a handful of photos that Andrew Gardner and I took of the event, along with a list of all the project titles — we’re sorry we weren’t able to get shots of everyone. Congratulations again, seniors, we’re proud of you!IMG_4848 IMG_4865IMG_4845IMG_4859IMG_4853


 Senior Theses

Kendra Moss: Body Image & Yoga:  Women’s Perceptions Across Varying Ages

Annie Ryan: Finding the Feminism in Self-Help: Postpartum Support Groups as Mechanisms of Resistance

Allison Cobb: Women’s Response to Street Harassment

Emma Collins: Motherhood Values in a Transitional Housing Program

Eva Chirinos: Social Networks among Latin American Male Immigrants

Na Lee Yang: Hmong Language and Cultural Maintenance in Seattle, Washington

Faith Matthews: Film Photography after the Digital Revolution

Chelsea Steiner: The Intersection of Faith and Politics: American Islam and its Influence on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Nikki Polizotto: Livability in Downtown Tacoma:  An analysis of public space and transportation

Erika Barker: Political and Social Activism from the Millennial Perspective

Chloe Thornton: Implications of the Panama Canal Expansion Project:  An exploratory studyon the Port of Tacoma

Max Keyes: Underground Music in the Pacific Northwest

Sarah Plummer: Altering Utopia:  The Life-cycle of Ideals Surrounding Intentional Communities

Ruth Rosas: The Role of Language in Mexican American College Students:  Compensatory Strategies for non-Spanish Speakers

Anna Sable: Housing in Tacoma from a Policy Perspective

Kat Lebo: Youth Violence Prevention Policies: Educator Perspectives on Efficacy



Catching up with Grace Goodwin

 Grace Goodwin (class of 2013) has been hard at work since graduating, putting the skills she aquired in the SOAN program to good use as an AmeriCorps member. When I found out she’d been accepted to a grad program at Seattle University, I asked if she could write a short update on her first, successful year out of college. Here it is!


Grace with students in her AmeriCorps after school program.

This past September I began my 10.5-month term of service with an AmeriCorps program based out of Federal Way, WA. Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps (FWPS for short) is a program that partners with most of the public schools in the district, providing them with AmeriCorps members who serve as academic tutors and who also work to develop before and after school programs.

I was assigned to Enterprise Elementary, a wonderful school with a great sense of humor, but I think the Star Trek reference is lost on most of the students. I see about 50 students throughout the entire day, my work primarily focused around math intervention. Teachers identify their most struggling students, who then come to me for extra support in an attempt to bring them back up to grade level. I support kindergarten through 5th grade and so my days vary from rote counting to multiplication songs to fractions, and all the students’ complications and heartbreak.


Grace Goodwin (left) planting trees as part of a service project for AmeriCorps.

Except for a handful of students here and there who exit my math group because they no longer need the extra support, I’ve been with the same students all year. It has definitely been a life-changing opportunity to work with these children and catch a glimpse of the multiplicity of their experiences. The academic portion of my job seems like the least important at times, when viewed in light of these children’s lived experiences. I work with one girl whose mother is a drug addict; two other students are refugees from Eritrea; another girl is the youngest of six kids raised by a single mother with no job; a couple I suspect live in abusive households; and for almost half of my students, English is not their first language. It becomes almost impossible to help a student improve academically without forging a relationship first, and learning about all the obstacles they’re facing outside of school. My AmeriCorps colleagues have shared stories of kindergarteners who’ve seen their mothers beaten or murdered, first graders who live out of the family car, second graders whose only male role models are in prison, third graders who come to school with no shoes, and so it becomes no wonder that as 4th and 5th graders, many of these students began gravitating towards gangs for protection. Working to impart self-confidence does wonders for a student’s academic performance.

Once my term of service ends this summer, I will be attending Seattle University to pursue a Masters in Criminal Justice. My service with FWPS AmeriCorps has definitely given me a better understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline, which has been one part of my inspiration in pursuing graduate education and the Criminal Justice Masters.

Working one on one with students has been invaluable, teaching me so much more than I could hope to learn in sociology classes on education or poverty alone, although understandings acquired in those classes have been immeasurably helpful in knowing how to approach my job. My students have shown me how to risk failure, to risk vulnerability, and to always get back up.  My service with AmeriCorps has challenged me to invest in a new community, afforded me the opportunity to develop new relationships, and encouraged me to find innovative ways to tackle community problems. AmeriCorps provides its members with real world experience and pushes them far beyond their comfort zones and so I highly encourage anyone who’s unsure of their next step after college, or anyone who is just service oriented, to explore opportunities with AmeriCorps.

Thanks for the update, Grace, and congratulations on your accomplishments with AmeriCorps, as well as your acceptance to the Criminal Justice program at Seattle University. We are all very proud of you, and hope to hear from you again soon!

Summer Internships in Tacoma

Hi all,

Green Thumb

Green Thumb kids, 2013. Aliyah Simcoff (back center) and Libby Shafer (back left) are recent SOAN graduates.

If you’ll be in Tacoma this summer, here’s an opportunity to consider. Two SOAN graduates, Aliyah Simcoff and Libby Shafer, work with the Northwest Leadership Foundation’s Eastside Green Thumbs project, and they are actively seeking college interns for the summer. The Eastside Green Thumbs project is a summer gardening camp that works with Roosevelt Elementary School to engage youth in in planting, growing, harvesting, purchasing, selling, and cooking food in school garden sites that go unattended in summer months. This program is part of a broader effort to address poor nutrition, low academic achievement, and the lack of environmental stewardship.

If you’d like to learn more, you can learn more about the project here, and you can contact Aliyah directly at asimcoff (at)


Rajeev Taranath, Indian classical musician, performs Tuesday night at 7:30 in Rausch. Free! Come!

Hello, sociologists and anthropologists!

Our very own Sunil Kukreja, along with ASUPS, have helped to organize a concert by acclaimed Indian musician Rajeev Taranath tomorrow, Tuesday, April 15th at 7:30pm in Rausch. More details in the poster, but it promises to be a really great show. Tell your friends, and I hope to see you there!