Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Hailing from Nacodoches, a small city in East Texas, Reuben Riggs-Bookman ended up attending college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was active in organizing against police brutality and for racial justice both on and off campus. Speaking to his academic interests while at WashU, Reuben says: “I did Anthropology and African American studies in undergraduate and I was more of an anthropologist in method. And as much as I appreciated anthropology’s ability to explore things in the present, and engage with communities in a very direct and rigorous way, it felt a little unmoored.”

After graduating, Reuben continued honing his skills as an organizer, working with racial justice organizations in St. Louis. While returning to graduate school was always a possibility, Reuben entered his political work with an open mind. “I was very open to being swept off my feet by something else. But in the process of doing that political work, I realized there were questions about how we were going about achieving our aims that I needed to answer.”

These questions—Why are our movements not winning? What is the best scale on which to organize? And what are the power structures that social movements are up against?—drive Reuben’s current research and have drawn him to pursuing history alongside anthropology. “I realized that a lot of the things I was interested in anthropologically had much deeper roots than I could access just on the surface.”

Once he decided to come to the University of Michigan, Reuben still had some concerns. Would he find likeminded students? So he was pleasantly surprised to find, “There were so many people who were friendly and open and critical. I felt like the department really encouraged students to connect in a meaningful way.”

Just like applying to graduate school, the intersection between Reuben’s political and scholarly work guides how he imagines approaching his career: “I think of myself very much as a scholar-activist. And I think that that hyphen can go in both directions. Scholar-activist or activist-scholar. And so for me when I think about what I’m going to do with my degree, it’s going to operate on those two valences.”