STEM Shoutout: Dr. Suzanne Oakdale


Anthropology professor chosen as a 2021 Women in STEM Award winner, recently promoted to full professor



Dr. Suzanne Oakdale, a professor in Anthropology, was selected in June as a 2021 Women in STEM Award winner.


Her project is “Claiming Celiac: Narratives of Illness and the Creation of New Worlds.”


The work looks at the experiences of people diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune condition that affects about 1.4 percent of the population. Such experiences include having to talk publicly in food-related settings about their condition.


“Because Celiac requires a diet completely free from gluten contamination, it forces sufferers to continually identify as such. As they do, they must also navigate several undesirable social identities, in addition to the stigma of disease. While many do not wish to be defined by their disease, some take it on fully as part of their social personas,” Oakdale wrote in the proposal. “This project focuses on adults who publicly claim celiac, those who have made gluten intolerance part of their social identity or even, in some cases, “their brand” in various food service businesses and blogs/vlogs.”


Oakdale said her background in anthropology will bring a new perspective to thinking about responses to this medical condition. Most of the medical and psychological literature, understandably, focuses on sufferers’ negative responses, for example, eating disorders, lack of compliance with the diet, and anxiety. Her project looks at constructive responses and how people came to these in their own lives.


“I ask how these people came to this response and what affects these creative businesses have had with respect to dealing with their conditions. My previous research has been focused on the rituals and history of lowland Brazilian indigenous peoples, so this new project is a radical departure in some ways.”


Oakdale said her interest in this topic has grown over the past four years after several celiac diagnoses within her family. She also said she was inspired by others living with celiac at support group meetings. 


“In the future, I would like to explore not just the creative responses to this condition through business, but also through activism/education and religion. I am incredibly thankful to have received a STEM seed award that will allow me to start down this exciting, new, and very different research path,” she said.


Oakdale also recently was promoted to full professor, effective July 1, 2021.