Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson

Professor, African-American Studies

Research questions

What is the experience of Silicon Valley East African immigrants being integrated into our region?

How do their challenges resemble or differ from challenges of other people of African descent, such as the African American great migration from the U.S. South to the Midwest, Northeast, and Southwest, or the challenges faced by Afro-Carribean immigrants who participate in our society?

How do women negotiate their roles as women in our society, where women have fought successfully for equal rights in the workplace and in the law?

How do the experiences of these immigrants vary by country of origin, gender, age, educational background, English language competency, type of visa, religion, social class and other factors?

Personal factors

I was a student guide for a group of United Nations dignitaries who visited my high school, one of whom was a South African who made the point of showing me the location of his country, Lesotho, on the globe in my high school's library. While I was in college at UCSC, his country was one of three African nations where my university had a USAID health project contract, and I applied for and was selected the student internship for the project in Lesotho. The rest is history.

Contributing factors

After returning to UCSC from my 6-month internship in Southern Africa, I met a UCB visiting scholar who told me about her research on obesity and medical anthropology. I thought her discussion about obesity and culture fit my interest in the ways culture frames health care and healing choices for people in Lesotho. Our discussion helped me to make sense of the field notes and other data that I collected in Lesotho, and resulted in an Honors senior thesis, graduate study in medical anthropology at Stanford, and an appointment as an anthropologist in International Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I feel fortunate to be able to teach and conduct research on topics that engage my intellectual curiosity and can make a difference in the health status of individuals and nations.


Locating well-trained student research assistants with interests in my research topics, and finding adequate time to train students who have interests in my research. I think the new social science research center is well poised to systematize the training of our social science undergraduate and graduate students. Another challenge is competing with scholars at research universities for research funding.

One book that changed my life and why?

Margaret Mead's autobiography Blackberry Winter. As I read her text, I realized that the common assumption that women had to choose between their career and their interest in family life was faulty logic. Professor Mead managed to be quite productive despite marriages and child rearing responsibilities. I thought her fiercely pro-human.


I am a social anthropologist and a medical anthropologist by training. I tend to read, eat, and drink Medical Anthropology. I also follow Transforming Anthropology and appreciate its focus on people of African descent living in Africa and its diasporas worldwide.

Advice to new faculty or students

Learning in the university setting is a privilege. Exercise your intellectual muscles. Use the resources provided and get the most out of this special setting and the wonderful mix of people here. You will never regret it.

RSCA Accomplishments

In 2012 I received a modest award from Cal Humanities ($10,000) and founded the Silicon Valley East African Diaspora Project (SVEADP), a vehicle through which East African immigrants and their supporters could begin to discover their shared experiences and challenges as they negotiated life in the Silicon Valley. The project collected an awesome photo collection that portrayed the everyday lives of these new immigrants. SVEADP held two public exhibits of the photographs which were viewed by over 10,000 visitors at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Library. The exhibits provided the immigrants with a window into each others’ cultures, and they were able to see cultural traits they shared. The exhibits also educated Silicon Valley residents about cultures of these new residents. I have presented several conference papers on the topic and continue to analyze interviews collected for future publications.

In Fall 2015 I received an award from Graduate Research to participate in The Faculty Diversity 12 Week Writing Bootcamp and am currently lavishing in the experience of having a strong support network of scholars and professional coaches committed to supporting each others scholarly output. Needless to say, I am currently in scholarly heaven, as a look forward to maintaining my current productivity and euphoria, as I add the usual teaching and administrative tasks that will be layered into the mix of scholarship when classes begin next week.