At the front of the banquet room, a special bouquet sits on the center table where an honored guest, a small gray-haired woman is seated. She is the recipient of the 2009 Distinguished Professor Award at the Faculty Recognition Luncheon held last month. When she rises to accept the award, the audience rises to give her a standing ovation.
Approaching 80 years of age, Professor Judy Brown, the oldest faculty member at Oakland University, swims 1,000 yards a day, five days a week. She has also been swimming upstream most of her life against cultural norms, against unspoken rules about what a woman can or can’t do. For the most part, she has ignored those rules.
Brown, a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at OU, has been teaching here for more than four decades and has co-edited and written numerous books and articles, mostly about women and their culturally-defined roles. At the faculty luncheon she was described as a trailblazer in the anthropological study of women’s lives in societies across the cultural spectrum.
Brown said that anthropology is the study “of all human beings wherever they have been.” Laughing, she said, “It’s a very modest agenda.” She said when you tell someone you’re an anthropologist, they always think that you’re Indiana Jones. (Archeology is a subdivision of anthropology, which might explain the confusion.) Brown says she is an archival anthropologist, which means she doesn’t work in the field. “I’m a disgrace to the profession, I don’t like to travel much,” she said. “I like just going to a library.”
Brown, who went to Harvard to get her Ph.D, said at Harvard she was fortunate to have access to the Peabody Museum Library, probably the world’s best library of anthropology.