College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Sandra J. Gray, PhD

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences - Anthropology
Associate Professor
Primary office:
Fraser Hall
Room 626
University of Kansas
1415 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045-7590

I obtained a PhD in 1992 from Binghamton University, via a circuitous route through the arts and the theatre (I am a member of Actors' Equity Association and have never completely left that profession). My early interests in paleoanthropology and the evolution of art gave way gradually to a focus on evolution in general and specifically human behavioral evolution. However, my recent work has moved me away from human behavioral ecology to more applied work in the area of human health and culture change. I have worked in East Africa since 1987: first among nomadic Turkana herders in Kenya and since 1994, among agropastoralists in Karamoja, Uganda.


My teaching focus is in three broad categories: (1) human adaptation, (2) evolutionary theory and the evolution of human social behavior, and (3) nutritional anthropology. In most of my courses, I use primary sources, in the belief that students are more likely to learn to think critically when the critical thinking has not been done for them - my major complaint with many college-level text books. My teaching style is highly interactive, and I employ humor as a fundamental pedagogical tool. My years as an actress and my theatrical training are profoundly useful for the effectiveness of this approach.

My emphasis is on concepts, and my overarching objective in all of my courses, whether undergraduate or graduate, is that students acquire a working understanding of important concepts in evolution, anthropology and human biology, which they can actively apply not only in academics but also in the real world. A second objective - and another reason I use primary sources - is to improve students' reading comprehension and writing ability. I require major writing & research projects in every course, and revision is a central feature of these projects. If our students are to improve their writing skills, they must have feedback. A poor grade on the first and last draft of a term paper teaches them nothing except to hate writing.

I am currently in the process of developing an intensive program in nutritional anthropology at KU.

Teaching Interests

  • Student engagement
  • Interactive approach
  • Humor
  • Verbal and written communication skills


Biocultural and medical anthropology. Human adaptability (human nutrition and dietary strategies, child growth, maternal and child health, fertility, maternal and child survival). Current research focus is threefold: 1) effects of psychosocial stress on maternal strategies and child outcomes; 2) economic development, conflict and culture change in African pastoralist societies; 3) suicide among African pastoralists. Area focus: East Africa.

Research Interests

  • Karamoja, East African pastoralism
  • Culture change and impoverishment
  • Dietary strategies and dietary change
  • Health inequality


Most of my service has been to the Anthropology Department and larger University of Kansas community. I currently serve as the undergraduate coordinator for Anthropology and, with the other members of the UG committee, am involved in revamping the undergrad program and curriculum. At the university level and/or in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I have served on the curriculum committee, promotion and tenure committee, and faculty senate, among others. For a period I served as the Director of the Human Biology Program. My service record is substantial.

Expert instruction in Arabic, Kiswahili, and Wolof at the beginning and intermediate levels will be offered over eight weeks in June-July 2018.

Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships

The Kansas African Studies Center has received $140,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch public discussions, community programming, and the creation of educational resources in local communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding recent demographic changes in the region. Visit to learn more. 

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