Race and diversity in U.S. Biological Anthropology: A decade of AAPA initiatives

Susan C. Antón, Ripan S. Malhi, Agustín Fuentes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Biological Anthropology studies the variation and evolution of living humans, non-human primates, and extinct ancestors and for this reason the field should be in an ideal position to attract scientists from a variety of backgrounds who have different views and experiences. However, the origin and history of the discipline, anecdotal observations, self-reports, and recent surveys suggest the field has significant barriers to attracting scholars of color. For a variety of reasons, including quantitative research that demonstrates that diverse groups do better science, the discipline should strive to achieve a more diverse composition. Here we discuss the background and underpinnings of the current and historical dearth of diversity in Biological Anthropology in the U.S. specifically as it relates to representation of minority and underrepresented minority (URM) (or racialized minority) scholars. We trace this lack of diversity to underlying issues of recruitment and retention in the STEM sciences generally, to the history of Anthropology particularly around questions of race-science, and to the absence of Anthropology at many minority-serving institutions, especially HBCUs, a situation that forestalls pathways to the discipline for many minority students. The AAPA Committee on Diversity (COD) was conceived as a means of assessing and improving diversity within the discipline, and we detail the history of the COD since its inception in 2006. Prior to the COD there were no systematic AAPA efforts to consider ethnoracial diversity in our ranks and no programming around questions of diversity and inclusion. Departmental survey data collected by the COD indicate that undergraduate majors in Biological Anthropology are remarkably diverse, but that the discipline loses these scholars between undergraduate and graduate school and systematically up rank. Our analysis of recent membership demographic survey data (2014 and 2017) shows Biological Anthropology to have less ethnoracial diversity than even the affiliated STEM disciplines of Biology and Anatomy; nearly 87% of AAPA members in the United States identify as white and just 7% as URM scholars. These data also suggest that the intersection of race and gender significantly influence scholarly representation. In response to these data, we describe a substantial body of programs that have been developed by the COD to improve diversity in our ranks. Through these programs we identify principal concerns that contribute to the loss of scholars of color from the discipline at different stages in their careers, propose other directions that programming for recruitment should take, and discuss the beginnings of how to develop a more inclusive discipline at all career stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-180
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Anatomy


  • Ancestry
  • Diversity Initiatives
  • Inclusion
  • Racialized Minority
  • Underrepresented Minority


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