And you thought your neighbors were weird

Have you ever dealt with a creepy roommate or neighbor? Imagine how local residents will feel when their new neighbors move in, giving them more than just a cold shoulder. And who will these new reticent members of the Cullowhee community be exactly? They are the dead bodies that belong to the university’s “body farm.” Recognized across the country through and, Western Carolina is the second university to open a body farm to forensic anthropology students. But are Cullowhee residents really bothered by this new development? According to Dr. John Williams, Director of Forensic Anthropology, “Nothing negative has been said about the development. No one has made any complaints, so we can assume that the community is fine with it.” When I first heard of a body farm, I was slightly horrified with images of the dead in popular CSI episodes. Because of the image the term “body farm” creates for most, Western is looking into a different and official term. “We feel calling it a body farm doesn’t project the right image for a lot of people, so we’re trying to decide on an official term.” Until Williams and the department release a new name, he would prefer everyone to instead say “decomposition facility.” Referring to the “body farm” as the “decomposition facility” will convey a more scientific connotation to others unfamiliar with the study. For those who aren’t familiar, a decomposition facility aids forensic anthropologists who are studying human decomposition after death. Contemplate how beneficial this can be to medical examiners, law enforcement, and most importantly, students interested in the mentioned careers. It would be highly unfortunate if a student graduated with their forensics degree, arrived at a crime scene, and was unable to stomach the sight and the smell of the deceased. The body farm is to accustom students with examining dead bodies with the help of trained professionals to find out such important information including time of death and simulating crime scenes for FBI agents. Many of you are probably wondering what such an operation will look like for forensic anthropology students. At the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility, the country’s first “body farm,” corpses are behind the University’s Medical Center. In 1971, Dr. William M. Bass founded the facility after he came to discovery that nothing like a hands-on facility existed to study decomposition after death. They were the first to adopt the term “body farm,” and because of this, Williams would rather a body farm be associated with UT, not WCU. At this facility, six acres of wooded plots are bordered with a razor wire fence. Inside the fence are varying bodies, different in their origins and deaths. Some were left unclaimed at medical examiners’ offices or voluntarily donated their bodies for the advancement of science. While the bodies are at the farm, the forensic anthropologists render the bodies to different environments and conditions-some are left out in the naked air, buried into graves, placed in vaults, and even left in such areas as car trunks. As of now for Western’s decomposition facility, a dual fence is in progress and sounds maximal in security. First, the facility will begin their operation small by “first just leaving the bodies outside and have the students research them in that sense. Then we’ll move to more specific areas like car trunks,” said Williams. Besides their busy schedule of completing the decomposition facility, the Anthropology program also hosted a site for law enforcement agents to participate in a training course of retrieving buried bodies. But instead of real bodies, they used plastic dummies or replicas. This provided agents from local counties such as Shelby, Marion, Henderson, and others to participate in hands-on situations that will be essential to possible emergencies in the future. If you wish to learn more of the press coverage concerning this training, contact Bill Studenc, the Senior Director of the University’s Public Relations. For other information concerning the Anthropology Forensics program, whether you are simply curious about its operations and programs, or if you are seriously considering its major, contact Dr. John Williams. He is highly qualified in his field with such experiences as working at various and official crime scenes, airplane crashes, and Ground Zero after September 11th. And remember, if you have a problem with a roommate or a neighbor, just think what could be living next to you instead.