From ancient Maya to Sacramento; Anthropology professor goes back to his roots

City College Anthropology Professor Michael Grofe instructing his "Intro to Linguistics" class Feb. 27. | Photo by Phoenix Kanada | Staff Photographer |

Ashton Byers
Staff Writer

Imagine walking into a home that looks something like Sigmund Freud meets Indiana Jones. This is the home of City College anthropology professor Michael Grofe.

You walk into another room, only to discover it is now turned into a library. As you look up, you see a beautifully finished copper ceiling. Very Zen, complete with Asian furniture, a Japanese screen, a giant Buddha and several plants.

Now imagine walking into Grofe’s office and being greeted by a giant hanging globe, Mayan artifacts hanging on the wall, and a map with thumbtacks documenting his travels throughout the world.

Michael Grofe’s world views are on display all around him.

With a zest to open people’s minds, he says he became an anthropology teacher. He sticks to his philosophy of balancing work and life. With a heavy workload of teaching five to six classes a semester, it’s no easy feat, but after eight years, he finds it quite rewarding.

“Do what you love and the money will follow,” he says.

Grofe says he loved growing up in the early 1970s when he could walk to school. His classmates grew up on the same block. He was taught by hippies.

College is the route that Grofe says he had to take, pressed upon him by his parents. His father is a psychiatrist. His mother, a dietician, whose passion for music led her to sing at Carnegie Hall. Ironically, he was able to live out his father’s dream of becoming a marine biologist —and a Mayan archeologist.

Now in his late 40s, Grofe is eager to share his knowledge with the world. He has a gift of being able to bring science to life for his students. He keeps them engaged, creating a fun atmosphere for the students.

“He definitely keeps things interesting for a class that could be a sleep-in,” said Erik Meusborn, who was a student in Grofe’s physical anthropology class.

And Grofe continues to share his philosophy of life. He believes that science and religion can co-exist. Describing a story about people from New Guinea, he tells how carving religious symbols on the sides of boats helped people feel protected.

“Religion connects us,” he says, because it protects us from things that are “beyond our control.”

People tend to run into trouble, he says, when we take versions of Christianity stories literally.

As an anthropology professor, Grofe stresses the fact that there are “no lines” in the make-up of our world. Because we live in a fast-paced society, where everyone is on the go, disconnection has become commonplace. Racial hatred and intolerance for others are on the rise. But Grofe emphasizes that we are all one race, the “human race.” Race is nothing more than a social construct.

“Willful ignorance, destruction of nature, animal cruelty, racism, and all the –isms,” says Grofe, naming the mindsets he strongly dislikes.

Grofe says to be ignorant is to ignore the facts and remain close-minded to the ideas only you yourself hold. This ignorance, in itself, can lead to the destruction of nature, animal cruelty, and racism. Therefore, it’s important to remain open-minded for all of us to co-exist on this planet.

Grofe’s love for teaching falls in line with his need to connect with other people. In his book, that’s human nature. The nature/nurture concept is what is embedded in us from infancy. If we lose our need to connect, Grofe says, we’ve lost what makes us human.

“Stay connected to other people, the past, nature, the cosmos, and always add to what you know,” Grofe says. “Also remember who you are and where you come from.”

To be good at what you do, you have to love it, and according to Hannah Diamond, another student from Grofe’s physical anthropology class, it shows.

“He’s like Bill Nye with anthropology,” says Diamond. “He brings a hell of a lot of energy with it, and it’s amazing!”