A Message to the Koobi Fora Field School Community

Trucks along the road
February 14, 2016

The Koobi Fora Field School has been operating through collaborations between various institutions and the National Museums of Kenya for more than 30 years. We have a dedicated faculty that return to northern Kenya every summer largely because of their passionate dedication to the scientific process and the opportunity to work with some of the world’s brightest young scholars. Our goal has always been to provide world-class training in the various fields of prehistory and paleoanthropology for students who are excited to learn about our shared heritage.

The staff of the Koobi Fora Field School is preparing the next adventure to the Turkana Basin. While all of us are excited about the upcoming field season and the discoveries that await us, we are also troubled by recent articles in the journal Science and The Washington Post.

Recent reviews have documented that students from various fields suffer harassment from people they considered to be mentors in various contexts: field settings, professional conferences and the workplace. This kind of behavior is completely repugnant and counter to the ideals, standards, and goals we have established for our research program and training organization. The Koobi Fora Field School has a zero tolerance policy on harassment within our community. Our faculty and staff were fortunate to work with some of the pioneers in understanding and addressing this problem. The Study of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) study documented a disturbing pattern of workplace harassment in field settings. In response to this study, we developed and implemented our current policies. We are especially grateful to an author of the SAFE study, Professor Katie Hinde (Arizona State University), for assisting us in developing a policy guide that outlines the behaviors we feel are conducive to a learning environment.

Due to the unique conditions of a field course located in a remote location, the Koobi Fora Field School at George Washington University has developed our own policy in conjunction with GW's policies, to ensure a sense of trust and inclusiveness within our research and training community. We have always strived to make sure students’ needs and concerns are addressed.

We want to be very clear about our policy: We are determined to provide our students with an open, respectful and inclusive environment where they feel free to discuss their concerns. From our beginnings in 2012, we have worked with our administration at George Washington University to develop a policy that allows students to reach a Title IX officer at any time if they need to discuss aspects of their experience that they do not feel comfortable discussing with our faculty. As per Title IX policy, we are required to report any instance where a student reports to us that he or she has been harassed. Title IX policy also mandates that faculty do not engage in their own investigation of these matters. We listen to students concerns and let the trained professionals of our Title IX office provide guidance about the proper course of action.

The Koobi Fora Field School continues to train the future generation of scholars in paleoanthropology and prehistory from all over the world: Kenya, Ethiopia, England, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, Uganda and the United States of America. We are proud that our students are now major contributors to the study of our lineage’s past. Over a dozen of our recent graduates will be presenting their original research at the Society of American Archaeologists and the American Association for Physical Anthropology. We look forward to another summer working with amazing young people excited about prehistory and willing to traverse the beauty of Kenya’s landscapes to explore their passion for the past. As we prepare the curriculum for the 2017 field season, our staff is committed to scientific rigor, personal integrity and respect for all members of our community. We look forward to seeing you on the outcrops.