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For her, anthropology equals advocacy

Everyone needs an anthropologist, says Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara ’08—a listener, learner, and leader who understands the core of their community.

Nfonoyim-Hara does just that in Rochester, Minn. Using skills developed at Swarthmore—and honed through Fulbright research in Spain, international development work, and a master’s at Oxford—Nfonoyim-Hara has become a megaphone for the city’s unheard voices.
“I liked the way anthropology focused on the micro-scale of culture and how it impacts people’s political realities,” says the writer, consultant, and community organizer. As a woman of mixed heritage (Nfonoyim-Hara is of Camaroonian, Afro-Costa Rican, and Indian descent), “that was something that spoke very much to my own experiences—and the experiences of my communities.”

After a decade without a solid home base, Nfonoyim-Hara eagerly integrated herself into Rochester, where husband Seth ’08 is a biomedical engineer for the Mayo Clinic. She began moderating diversity discussions for the Rochester Civic Theatre; her successful talk on the politics of black hair led to plans for community dialogues on feminism and on racial justice and policing, in light of the Minnesota shooting of Philando Castile.

“There are a lot of conversations happening now about race and culture and how people are navigating that in this community,” she says.

Those conversations extend to diversity discussions as the Mayo Clinic expands. Nfonoyim-Hara is lending her voice to advocate for social and economic justice, and keeping local interests central to these development initiatives.

With every project, her goal remains the same: to shed light on those in the shadows.

“Anthropology opened up a lot of doors into my thinking about the world and how I existed in it,” she says, “and how best I could help other communities.”