September 29, 2011
WOOSTER, Ohio — Students in Pam Frese’s Introduction to Anthropology class are learning that politics often transcend culture. The class, which consists of 36 students, is studying the Tiv of West Africa, but Frese also wanted them to make a connection to the political system in their own community, so she invited a local candidate to talk about her experience.
“I thought it would be interesting to bring in someone who is going through the process,” said Frese, who commonly invites guests to speak to her classes. “The cultures are very different, but the role of politics in society is often very similar.”
The candidate, incumbent Wayne County Municipal Court Judge Carol White Millhoan, is running for re-election, and she had plenty of insight regarding local politics, including the value of a family legacy in the community. “Family connections are incredibly important,” said Millhoan, whose local family roots date back to 1928. She also said that being able to network and raise funds are vital to success.
Millhoan’s presentation illustrated the important role that informal politics, through family and community fund raising in social gatherings — like barbeques, picnics, etc. — play in raising community awareness of candidate’s qualifications for a formal political role.
Likewise, family, friends, and finances are significant for those running for office in the Tiv. “Their political system is also connected to kinship and economics,” said Frese. “Whom you are related to and how you develop relationships are important in the Tiv culture as well.”
Gender is another factor that knows no boundaries. In the Tiv, men run the political system. In the U.S., women have much more access, but they still lag behind men, as evidenced by the fact that Millhoan is the only female judge in Wayne County. “When I was in school, women became teachers or nurses,” she said. “I started out teaching English. It wasn’t until much later that I started to look at other options and think about a career in law.”
Millhoan also touched on her role as a judge in the community. “I hear misdemeanor criminal cases that involve offenses such as petty theft and prohibition, as well as civil cases that involve things like evictions, small claims, and traffic violations,” she said.
Students were able to make a connection there, too. “In anthropology, we study how humanity polices itself and how conflict is resolved,” said Frese. “It was helpful to hear how things are handled locally and compare it to the way things are done among the Tiv.”
Ultimately, Frese wanted her students to compare and contrast the two systems, and she measured their ability to do so with a question on a recent exam. “In reading their responses, two common themes emerged: gender and reciprocity,” said Frese. “Everyone got something important out of (Millhoan’s presentation).”
As for Millhoan, she also enjoyed the experience. “It was such a delight to speak with a group of bright young students,” she said. “They asked excellent questions and seemed very eager to learn.”
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