Anthropology professor brings cultural experiences to Geneseo campus

As a college student living in Geneseo, it is often difficult to imagine life outside of New York. Associate professor of anthropology James Aimers is a living reminder of the diversity one can have when it comes to worldly experiences. Born and raised in Toronto, Aimers lived in Canada until the age of 26, completing his undergraduate degree at Trent University. “Trent University reminds me of Geneseo,” Aimers said. “It’s a small, public liberal arts school that was a pretty cool, open-minded college.”

Aimers, an openly gay professor, started the first gay and lesbian organization at Trent during his sophomore year of college in 1986. To this day, the organization still exists.

“Back in those days, there weren’t as many out people, so the climate was definitely scarier [for gays] than it is now. On campus especially, there were not many out gay people, so odd things would happen,” Aimers said. “One time, the University Senate needed assistance with topics like condom use and AIDS, so they called me. They acted like I was the spokesperson for the gay community.”

Aimers’ love for anthropology stemmed from a class that he took during his freshman year of college. He originally joined the course to learn about the Aztecs, which sparked his interest for ancient Mayan architecture and ceramics. In addition, Aimers has dabbled in other topics, such as the archaeology and anthropology of sex and gender and archaeological art.

“I think anthropology is great because you can study anything related to humans. It’s broad, it’s fascinating, it’s a limitless field because humans are such a broad species and I love the variety of it,” Aimers said. “It’s a globalizing world; it’s diversifying and lots of people are moving all over the place. Understanding diversity and being able to work and cooperate in a globalizing world is extremely important.”

Rather than going straight from his undergraduate to graduate school, Aimers decided to teach English in Japan for a year.

“After I completed my undergraduate degree, I got into my master’s program but I didn’t have enough funding,” Aimers said. “Because I had an English and anthropology degree, I decided to apply to a teaching program in Japan. I was accepted into a government-run program called JET, which stands for Japan Exchange Teaching.”

JET gives young people the opportunity to work as teachers in Japanese schools. Aimers taught English at a local Japanese high school. He admitted that he experienced culture shock moving from Canada to Japan.

“Because of the group orientation of Japanese culture, you weren’t allowed to isolate individual students from the class,” Aimers said. “For example, when there were troublesome students, you weren’t allowed to ask them to leave the classroom. Also, when we tried to play Bingo, it didn’t work out because the Japanese students were too embarrassed to yell Bingo by themselves.”

In addition to Japan, Aimers has worked in Illinois, Ohio, Belize, Great Britain and Peru. Aimers’ favorite place to live is Toronto. He said: “There’s no place like home, right?”