Brittany ELLIS ’15, Student

Brittany ELLIS ’15 is a senior at Harvard University pursuing a joint degree in Archaeology and Social Anthropology. Passionate about the intersection of history, places, and living communities, Brittany’s initial interest in social anthropology was sparked at Ellis—namely by her teachers Dr. Bedell, Ms. Sturdevant, and Dr. Jordan. With plans to pursue her Ph.D., Brittany is currently furthering her pedigree with a summer abroad in Jordan where she is conducting research for her senior thesis. Active in her own collegiate community, Brittany serves as a news executive at The Harvard Crimson and also served as president of Harvard’s oldest feminist organization, the Radcliffe Union of Students.
Years at Ellis:Grade 6 to Grade 12
Location:Cambridge, MA
Education:Pursuing a B.A. in Anthropology, Harvard University

You just completed your junior year at Harvard University, what comes next for you?
I ultimately intend to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology or archaeology focusing on cultural heritage studies, indigenous archaeology, and public archaeology, so I am working now on narrowing down programs and preparing to apply to a range of graduate fellowships. At the same time, I will return to Jordan this summer to conduct research for my senior thesis. I will be working as a member of the Hisban Cultural Heritage Project at the Tall Hisban archaeological site, where I hope to study the history of community based methodologies and the role of local individuals and organizations in the research and heritage programs at the site.  

What are you involved with at school?
The most formative part of my Harvard experience has been my work on The Crimson, the school’s newspaper, where I worked as a reporter for two and half years and now serve as a news executive. As a reporter, I investigated and published pieces on the culture in the athletics department—everything from toxic team cultures to the wage gap between coaches of male and female teams and racial diversity. These articles have had a real impact, leading the department to review their current practices, overhaul cultural programming and the complaint process, and start important conversations about culture on campus.

Aside from The Crimson, I have worked for the Anthropology Department to design a new website, conducted research on Arab cartoonists for a visiting fellow, serve as cox and captain of my house’s crew team, work as a member of the Student Board for the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, and served as the president of the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), Harvard’s oldest feminist organization. As president of RUS, I organized a female-focused comedy night, our 9th annual Feminist Coming Out Day, a panel on the history of anti-sexual assault activism on campus, and our 13th annual Orgasm Seminar as part of Harvard Sex Week.  

What is your best memory of Ellis?
I don’t think there’s one moment—it’s probably an amalgamation of time spent with friends in the lounges or cafeteria, in Ms. Sturdevant’s room eating pretzels with peanut butter and talking about art, in the studio and photo lab, and at field hockey practice.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Devote time to your relationships with your classmates and your teachers because they are what really stay with you past Ellis and can provide so much support, guidance, and love as you move forward. And, yes, Ellis will be challenging, but it will prepare you to juggle a million things at once, to use your voice, and to explore what excites you.

What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’ all-girls environment?
For me, Ellis provided an environment where I always felt comfortable and supported. Comfortable asking questions, trying new things, and being myself around my classmates and teachers. In an all-girls environment, too, girls are first and foremost students or athletes or artists or whatever they want to be. I think being in a space where girls never feel limited because of their gender and sex goes a long way towards building confidence, ambition, and a strong sense of self.

We often talk about girls using their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
Voice comes down to sense of self and sense of purpose. It’s about understanding who you are, the experiences and expertise you bring, and what motivates you. I think it happens over a lifetime, but the processes of introspection and of refining that sense of self and sense of purpose definitely starts at Ellis. It starts as girls discover topics and activities that excite them, as they have challenging conversations with students and teachers, and as they are pushed in their work to defend their positions. My voice, more and more, has been focused around storytelling. Storytelling is at the center of the investigative reporting I’ve done. My senior thesis hinges on the idea that valuing the stories and experiences of the local people around and involved in academic research projects is not just the ethically right thing to do, but also can produce novel interpretations of the artifacts, site, or whatever is the project’s focus. So I am thinking a lot right now about how, if at all, I can use my own voice and the platforms I am privileged to have to represent or amplify these stories that are so important.

Some would question whether all-girls schools are still necessary today, what do you think about that?
I think the opportunity for girls and young women to learn in environments where they are seen first and foremost as students is extremely valuable. In my time at Ellis, I never felt that my work was qualified by my gender or sex. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case even at Harvard University, where I have seen my friends in certain departments be evaluated as a woman, then as a scholar, and to have their voices or work be somehow lessened or tokenized. Sexism has deep roots and manifests itself at every level of society, and as long as it does, I think it is important to have places like Ellis where women develop their own voices as well as a network of people supporting them.  

How do you spend your free time?
At school, if I’m not in class or at The Crimson, I can usually be found in one of the museums on campus or in my residential house dining hall playing with the kids of my residential tutors.  

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Since I was young, I’ve loved animals and have admired Jane Goodall for her research and conservation efforts. I also think she has been a real trailblazer in terms of women working in the field and conducting scientific research on their own, so I would love to speak with her.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Eager to learn.

What is the last book you read?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead