By Garrett Goodnight
Growing up, Alisha Gaskins had always been passionate about teaching others. This passion has translated into the work that she has done, not only as a lecturer at Humboldt State University but as an active advocate for reproductive justice and healthy living.
“Alisha was the first HSU faculty member I met, and I am incredibly grateful,” student Lily Camara says. “She readily established a personal connection with me, introducing me to the world of anthropology, asking me about my dreams with open ears, and giving me the opportunity to continue communicating with her while I finished my senior year in high school.”
Gaskins has been a lecturer at Humboldt State University since 2014, and she is soaking in all of the light as much as possible because life can change at any minute. The first class she taught at HSU was an evolutionary medicine course, which she was able to make an immediate impact, encouraging her students to explore different systems of medicine.
“Alisha’s enthusiastic and caring approach to teaching has completely changed the direction of my studies,” anthropology student Rowan McClelland-Bishop says. “Thanks to her, I found my niche in biocultural anthro, and she has continued to be an unwavering resource in and out of class, over email, even sitting on the ground in her office discussing homo erectus women giving birth.”
Besides her part-time job at HSU, she has been teaching at Laurel Tree Charter Elementary School, where she is able to encourage and influence the minds of the youth since 2011. At Laurel Tree Charter she is immediately making an impact through her health and nutrition position, where she cooks organic and vegetarian lunches with the kids every single day.
Gaskins hopes that one-day, teachers from around the United States will go to her Charter School to learn how to cook real food. There are so many topics that she can teach through cooking.
“We integrate permaculture and social justice whenever possible,” Gaskins says. ”Eating real food is an essential life skill so we make that a priority in our curriculum at our school, which is usually left out in public schools.”
Gaskins’ life has evolved around the idea of helping others. She recalls that activism and social justice have been an integral part of her life for as long as she can remember.
As a child she recollects her extremely hyperactive attitude. Her mother could have taken her into the doctors for ADHD, but she decided to put her on the Feingold diet, which is a whole foods diet.
She grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It was about senior year in high school when she learned what the word anthropology was for the first time. She still has that book she read the word out of, sitting in her office. On that day in 1998, she realized that anthropology would influence her life forever.
Gaskins had received several scholarships at the nearby colleges in her home state, close to family. The weather and her high school experiences really pushed her away from West Chester. She discovered Humboldt State University in the college brochure, and decided that she wanted to move.
Her ticket to California happened to be a Beanie Baby of a monkey that wound up having a value of over $3,000. Her and her boyfriend at the time jumped in their 1968 Volkswagen Bus and journeyed for over two months across the country to wind up here in Humboldt County, where she then applied to be a student at Humboldt State University.
She ended up getting a double major at HSU in studio arts and anthropology in 2003. She was a full-time student and worked two jobs, while enrolling every summer to get as many units as she could. Gaskins graduated in 4 and a half years and she was truly inspired by Dr. Mary Glenn for her advice and leadership throughout her college experience.
Gaskins went to Chico State for one year of graduate school. She dropped out and found herself gravitating back up north. She had always been on the path to become a teacher, even the years she took off between graduate schools.
She worked for four years with environmental non-profits where she spent time teaching others about health and knowledge with the environmental. During these four years she was able to initiate the Organic Planet Festival organization, while building the Jacoby Creek School Garden.
Gaskins would eventually apply for the Environment and Community program at HSU. She was approved and graduated with a Masters of Arts in Social Science within a few years. She recommends that students going to grad school should research the faculty because they will become your support system once you are in.
Her theory of feeding people great and healthy food is definitely visible in her food trailer. Besides working two teaching positions, Gaskins and her partner own a local food trailer that serves nothing but healthy and organic food.
“It’s the best food truck in Arcata,” customer Sydney Long says. “It makes me feel even better knowing that the food is actually good for me, and that it’s gathered all from local farmers.”
“I try to live as ethically as possible and it’s hard, but I feel ethically great to feed people healthy, local, organic food,” Gaskins says. “You are what you eat, and I want you to feel good!”