The People Who Power WP: Balmurli Natrajan

Every month during the academic year, we will spotlight a different member of the WP faculty or staff who plays a powerful role in student success.

Name: Dr. Balmurli Natrajan

Title: Professor of Anthropology, Department of Community and Social Justice Studies

Years at WP: 18.5

Tell us about yourself: Life’s a journey. We embody those experiences. Growing up in bustling Bombay, completing a marine engineering degree in Calcutta, working on merchant naval ships, coming to graduate school in engineering at a midwestern US university, inspired by scholars and activists engaged in resisting power and oppression, changing course to anthropology as a way to understand deep social inequalities, learning about race by studying a Black church in the Midwest, researching caste and labor organization in India for a PhD, taking a detour as a software developer in corporate America while writing my dissertation, finding my way back to pursue my passion—teaching, enabling, challenging and shaping students and institutions of higher learning.

Describe your role on campus: Teaching; leading; public engagement. I teach a variety of courses on language, identity and inequality, globalization, community development, and research. I lead the efforts as Director of the University Core Curriculum (UCC) to produce a new, exciting, and distinctive UCC that embodies students’ aspirations of a career with social mobility and insistence on a socially just world. Along with colleagues, I engage in community-based research and needs assessment for Passaic County, most recently on homelessness. 

A defining moment at WP: As chair of the Faculty Senate at the start of the pandemic and with a fiscal crisis underway, I had to find a way to lead in turbulent times.

Favorite part about your job: Being able to improvise and innovate regularly at work, such as creating an exciting major—the B.A. in Community Development and Social Justice—which has a career path and combines very well with a variety of other majors on campus.

Fun fact: I was on a ship that was caught in a tropical storm off the Gulf of Mexico for 36 hours. (Hurricane Keith in 1988.)

Finish this sentence: "WP is a powerhouse of changemakers." A WP educational experience nurtures our students’ spirits, imaginations, skills, and intuitive sense of justice.