Cari Costanzo

Cari Costanzo

Academic Advising Director, Undergraduate Advising & Research; Lecturer, Department of Anthropology & Thinking Matters

B.A., University of Southern California, Comparative Literature & Journalism (1991)
M.A., University of Chicago, MAPSS (Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences) (1997)
Ph.D., Stanford University, Social & Cultural Anthropology (2005)


Cari Costanzo is a Cultural Anthropologist (Ph.D. Stanford 2005) and an Academic Advisor who teaches in Stanford's Thinking Matters program. Cari joined Undergraduate Advising and Research, part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, as an Academic Advising Director in 2009. From 2010-2015, Cari also served as a Resident Fellow, living in a freshman dormitory with her two children. As an RF, Cari worked to build community in a diverse residential environment, supporting formal and informal learning to inspire intellectual curiosity and personal growth among first-year students.

Cari’s teaching, research, and writing examine ritual, historical memory, and discourses of identity. Cari has conducted fieldwork in Hawaii and India, as well as an undergraduate dormitory at Stanford. Employing ethnographic research methods, Cari’s work has looked at a range of issues, from the effects of American “colonialism” on contemporary politics and indigenous nationalism in Hawaii; to the way women working in Indian Call Centers “virtually migrate” everyday, creating complex opportunities and obstacles for upward mobility and global feminism; to the impact of socioeconomics and cultural capital on discourses of resilience among undergraduate students.

Cari co-teaches the Thinking Matters course Reading the Body, which explores the way culture informs and distorts how we discern, accept, reject, and analyze our bodies. Engaging literary, medical, ethical, and ethnographic texts, Reading the Body asks how representations of the body affect the way we experience illness, embody gender and racial identities, and understand our rights (or lack of rights) to control our own bodies. The course analyzes a range of case studies, including those of conjoined twins, babies born intersex, and the growing surrogacy industry in India. The course also carefully considers the idea that gender is experienced on a spectrum, and suggests that disrupting conceptions of gender as a binary helps to ensure social acceptance and legal rights for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Cari designs Ethnographic Body Mapping workshops that combine cultural awareness with artistic and contemplative practices to encourage the reframing and reclaiming of embodied experiences, enabling participants to both reflect upon and creatively share their life stories. Her workshops encourage individuals to locate the cultural landscape(s) that both positively and negatively shape our embodied selves, creating a space for active awareness and empowerment.

As an Academic Advising Director, Cari guides students as they choose courses and decide on majors, design independent research projects in the arts and social sciences, request exceptions to University policy, and manage academics in the context of complex and challenging situations. Through a process of narrative advising, Cari helps students find and re-frame their own stories of academic and personal resilience. In 2010, Cari served on the steering committee that formed the Stanford Resilience Project. In 2017, Cari joined the facilitation team in the Design Life Lab at the D-school, working with undergraduates in Design your Stanford and graduate students in Designing the Professional. She also serves on the Teaching and Learning Initiative for Gender Inclusive Stanford, and has given talks on Understanding Transgender Identity for the Stanford Alumni Association and other organizations and institutions in the wider community.

Residences: Wilbur (Arroyo, Junipero), Row - Cowell Cluster (Delta Delta Delta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Pi Beta Phi, Terra, ZAP)

Dr. Costanzo’s teaching and research examine gender, discourses of identity, and contemporary urbanism. She is currently conducting an ethnographic study of life in a freshman dormitory.