Brett Williams grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the 50s and 60s, oblivious to the civil rights struggles erupting around her. “I went to Robert E. Lee High School, and I remember running around waving Confederate Civil War flags. It wasn’t until I reached college—Tufts University—that I opened my eyes to the battle raging around me and recognized the injustice.”
Once she opened her eyes, Williams never turned away from trying to promote better public policy and social change. After graduation, she organized free health care clinics for women in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and then pursued a graduate degree in anthropology. “I hoped that by examining other cultures I might be able to identify ways to better promote equality in our own culture.”
D.C. Culture in the Classroom
In 1976, Williams came to AU to teach and fell in love in with Washington, D.C. “I remember how impressed I was with the rich cultural life of the city, the melding of nationalities, the city’s vitality. I studied every inch of it.”
She teaches many courses exploring D.C. as a national memorial, seat of power, center of African American history, and political center. Her students work with her on public anthropology projects such as planning programming for the Smithsonian’s National Folk Life festival, studying how people perceive Washington D.C.’s parks for the National Park Service, and completing a study for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on the needs of residents in public housing projects.
Her graduate students use the city as a laboratory to document the fight to save a Boys and Girls club in a gentrified neighborhood or examine the role of blended religion in a D.C. Congolese church.