Statement on Human Remains

Recently, a member of the San José State University (SJSU) Anthropology Department uploaded a social media post in which she is posing with human remains from a Native American ancestor. Although our Department is committed to academic freedom, we strongly disapprove of the post and do not condone such practices. The ideas and words of a single faculty member do not represent the values of the Anthropology Department as a whole. All human remains should be treated with dignity and respect.

This incident has prompted us to confront gaps in the Anthropology Department’s policies regarding the handling and depiction of human remains. In the past, the Department lacked an explicit policy about photographing remains, though it was codified in course syllabi and generally accepted as a standard of practice. Following a SJSU Presidential Directive issued on October 6, 2021, there are now stricter protocols regarding access to SJSU’s Curational Facility—including a firm prohibition of video and photography of Native American remains. We enthusiastically welcome these developments.

 Our Department recognizes that this incident has gained national attention and is hurtful to many people, and we are sorry for the pain it has caused. We are committed to fostering an inclusive environment, and apologize to the Indigenous and Native American communities, scholars, and students who have been offended. Our Department remains committed to working closely with Native California groups as we help SJSU meet its responsibilities under NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA—including AB 275. Supporting the rapid return of Native American human remains, artifacts, and other objects of cultural patrimony to descendant communities is our foremost priority. A new full-time Tribal Liaison is coordinating this process, and she is currently engaged in consultations with local tribes regarding full and complete repatriation of the University’s Native American collections.

Moving forward, we invite conversations with Native American communities and advocate for deeper relationships with the peoples whose land SJSU occupies.

Approved by a majority vote of the Department Standing Committee on November 19, 2021.

[A response to this statement can be found here [pdf].]