It is with great sadness that we share the news that Colette Marie Sims, Ph.D., passed away last week from complications of COVID-19. Colette completed her B.A. degree at the University of Arizona as an adult at a time when she was widowed and raising two children. She fell in love with anthropology while enrolled in Anthropology 310, Culture and the Individual, which was being taught by Mark Nichter (circa 1993). One day after class, she walked up to Mark and told him that “this is what she wanted to do, that she had seen her future as a sociocultural anthropologist!” At that time, Mark Nichter, Mimi Nichter, and Cheryl Ritenbaugh had National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to study body image, dieting, and smoking among adolescent girls in Tucson and had begun to investigate cultural and ethnic differences. Colette was hired to work with Sheila Parker (College of Public Health) to conduct research among Black girls in Tucson. This led to a groundbreaking ethnography, still heavily cited, on how Black girls had greater acceptance of their bodies even at heavier weights. Colette (and Sheila) represented the Teen Lifestyle Project on TV and morning radio shows including Oprah and were interviewed by newspapers and teen magazines around the country.
Colette went on to receive her Ph.D. from the UA (then) Department of Anthropology in 2006 with funding from an NIH minority fellowship. Her dissertation fieldwork focused on older Black women and their experiences in healthcare settings. Her findings were published in Ethnicity and Health in 2010. After her graduation, Colette’s professional career was multifaceted. She taught several courses in Africana Studies at the UA, including The Social Construction of Race, Rethinking Race and Health in America, African American Autobiographies, and Research Approaches in Africana Studies. She also received a postdoctoral fellowship from NIH in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine under the mentorship of Cheryl Ritenbaugh. For this project, Colette explored the experience of Black women embracing the spiritual side of alternative therapies.
While working in the medical school, Colette was asked to participate in cultural competency training for medical students. She did so with conviction and laid bare the Black experience in America from slavery to modern forms of racial disparity and structural racism, placing emphasis on both the social and structural determinants of health. She also explained why many Blacks mistrust the health care system and feel they need to proactively advocate for good care. Colette helped medical students imagine the kinds of challenges that minority patients face in the real world that result in ill health and reduced ability to be adherent to best practice medical advice, as well as their difficulties in communicating with white healthcare providers.
Colette was passionate about helping students of all ages. While working at the UA, she provided tutoring to athletes, whom she insisted on calling “athlete-scholars.” Many of these students commented in their memories of Colette that the use of that term changed their own perceptions of themselves. In recent years, working with the Tucson Unified School District, Colette prepared children and adolescents for college readiness. True to her perspective on life, Colette considered herself a collaborator in the development of students’ academic performance through learner-centered strategies.
Colette touched many hundreds of lives from the academy to the community. She will be greatly missed by her colleagues, who will remember her for the strong, vibrant, and big-hearted person she was as well as her personal style and her amazing nails. Colette truly walked the walk on her own terms. She is survived by her two children and grandchildren. A celebration of life for Colette will be planned after the pandemic has passed. Donations to three charities or her celebration of life can be made through Cash App to $MOXIEGYAL.
Cards and letters may be sent to Colette’s daughter:
3538 Dusty View St.
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
Mimi Nichter, Ph.D., Regents’ Professor Emeritus
Mark Nichter, Ph.D., MPH, Professor of Anthropology, Retired
Cheryl Ritenbaugh, Ph.D., MPH, Affiliated Retired Professor of Anthropology