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Julie Strom, MA

Julie Strom

Julie Strom is originally from New York and moved to California with the hope of becoming an actor. Like most actors in Hollywood, she worked a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet. Knowing that education was the most reliable path to steady and gainful employment, she began her academic career at Los Angeles Valley College without a specific career goal, but out of curiosity: "Can this college thing work for me?" A night course in cultural anthropology caught her eye because it generally addressed many of the things that had always fascinated her throughout her life, such as different cultures, art, history, literature, language, how and why people organize themselves. That first semester of college where she took this single class hooked her on anthropology for life. In those first years, she studied art history and religion alongside anthropology, but in the end, anthropology won the contest because of its culturally relative perspectives on studying the human experience and all its sociocultural diversity.

Transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles and completing the anthropology program in two years, Julie earned a bachelor of arts summa cum laude with highest departmental honors for her undergraduate thesis work on "Empathy and the Moral Negotiations of Science Fiction Fandom." This work focused on understanding the relationship between cultural concepts of morality and empathy for fictional characters among the vibrant online communities of science fiction fandom. At the time, there was little research in anthropology into online communities, and despite concern from some faculty members she was able to demonstrate through fieldwork and analysis that social media is a valid field for anthropological studies as it is a space where humans engage meaningfully with each other.

Continuing this work in graduate school at California State University, Northridge, Julie earned a masters in sociocultural anthropology with distinction. In her thesis "Moral Agency and Free Will: Speculative Fiction Fandom and the Discourse of Empathy," Julie looked at tens of thousands of social media posts to understand the rules of empathy. She asked questions like: Why do we feel empathy for some people, and not others? What are the rules by which we, consciously or unconsciously, choose to empathize with another human and their experiences? How does this affect how we analyze new experiences? And how might these rules be similar whether we are thinking about real-world human groups or fictional characters to which we are becoming attached?

Julie teaches the four fields of anthropology to community college students today because she hopes to inspire, even a small amount of fascination with humans and their amazing diversity of thought and behavior, with the belief that from understanding comes empathy and tolerance. She believes that anthropology provides a perspective through which each of us can better understand others in their own contexts, rather than based on our own biases, and that this is the path to a better future for all of us. "Anthropology does not teach us what to think, but it does teach us how to better think about ourselves and the world around us."

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