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July 27, 2021

Dr. Irma McClaurin and “The Changemakers” Honored with Engaged Anthropology Award

ROCHESTER, NY, July 27, 2021 – The American Anthropological Association (AAA) Engaged Anthropology Award was recently awarded to Dr. Irma McClaurin, anthropologist, and the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s (RMSC) past featured exhibition, The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World. Dr. McClaurin served as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness (DEI) consultant for the exhibition and was a key contributor.

The AAA Engaged Anthropology Award honors individual anthropologists or projects which have demonstrated a deep commitment to social justice and community engagement by applying anthropology to effectively address a pressing issue facing people and the planet. 

Awardees exhibit outstanding best practices in advancing public service, outreach, and community engagement in their work; engaged research and scholarship that is conducted for the benefit of, and in partnership with a community (broadly defined); building institutional commitments to service-learning and social justice; or mutually beneficial community partnerships that address critical community needs in the pursuit of social justice and human rights.

Dr. McClaurin, a graduate of Grinnell College with a BA in American Studies, is a three-time graduate of University of Massachusetts Amherst, receiving an MFA in English in 1976, an MA in Anthropology in 1989, and a PhD in Anthropology in 1993. She is an award-winning free-lance writer and the owner of Irma McClaurin Solutions, a consulting business focused on coaching, organizational transformation, and DEI/Community Engagement strategies. Her past leadership roles include: President of Shaw University; Program Officer at the Ford Foundation; Chief Diversity Officer at Teach For America; and Senior Faculty at the U.S. Federal Executive Institute, where she taught hundreds of senior federal executives. Dr. McClaurin’s most ambitious venture to date is the founding of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was founded in order to make “Black women visible and heard” and establish an interdisciplinary “archival home” for Black women activists, artists, and academics.

“Working with the Rochester Museum & Science Center on The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World has been a once-in-a-lifetime consulting opportunity for me as an activist and engaged anthropologist. It was a collaborative venture, and props to my Haudenosaunee and Latinx DEI colleagues with whom I developed a sense of community. Throughout the project, we had to grapple with practices of exclusion that are common to museums and most American traditional institutions, but we worked through those. We had to deal with how to write about these diverse women of African American, Haudenosaunee, Latinx, Asian and European descent in ways that lifted them up and challenged conventional definitions of changemakers and advocates,” said Dr. McClaurin. “Along the way we struggled, navigated diversity, equity, and inclusion growth pains, and ended up with a remarkable exhibition as well as transformative professional relationships and changes in RMSC's institutional practices; which I hope will serve as a reminder to RMSC that change is possible, and help them be a beacon of possibilities for other museums and nonprofits. I now use these lessons learned in my current consulting and coaching work to illustrate to other individuals, institutions, and organizations that DEI growth and transformation are possible. In effect, The Changemakers project enabled all of us to become the change we wanted to see and preserve for Rochester communities, and beyond, to learn from and grow.”

Kathryn Murano Santos, Director of Collections and Exhibits at RMSC, worked closely with Dr. McClaurin throughout the exhibition development process.

“This Engaged Anthropology Award is well-deserved. Dr. Irma’s work-- as well as the work of our other DEI consultants, community curators, and partner organizations-- was pivotal to the success of The Changemakers,” said Murano Santos. “Using authentic community engagement and applied anthropology in the disruption of traditional exhibit norms, the exhibit has changed the local narrative around women’s achievements to recognize the critical ongoing impacts of diverse women and inspire and empower the next generation of Changemakers.”

While The Changemakers is no longer installed in its entirety, elements of the exhibit are available around the RMSC Museum and online

Learn more about Dr. McClaurin by visiting her website

See more information about the AAA Engaged Anthropologist Award on their website.

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