Professor leaves New York behind to raise family, pursue academic dreams in Kent

Anthony+Tosi

Anthony Tosi

Logan Lutton

A convicted murderer stands a mere 25 feet away from Anthony Tosi. While the jury listens, daggers come out of the eyes of the accused. Sent from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, Tosi must explain the evidence against the convicted. 

“You can feel the look of intensity in their face,” Tosi said. “You can see the veins in their neck pulsing out — that’s unnerving.”

Tosi, an assistant professor of anthropology at Kent State, previously worked at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner as part of an elite group of forensic scientists.

During his six-year career there, he was recognized by the state Supreme Court as an expert witness in forensic biology and DNA analysis. He has testified in person multiple times and worked on an endless number of cases.

Tosi has since left the office to pursue a life of academia at Kent State.

Instead of the courtroom, Tosi now sits at his kitchen table and listens to Kyoko, his wife, and their children switch on and off effortlessly between English and Japanese over dinner. 

The tough part comes afterward, when he washes the dishes.

“For whatever reason, kitchen knives are a really popular murder weapon in New York City,” Tosi said. “Even now, I hate after dinner. I just try to wash the knives as quickly as possible.”

Tosi was born and raised in Illinois, where he attended Illinois Math and Science Academy, a boarding school. From there, he went to Beloit College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. During a study abroad program his junior year of college, he met Kyoko in Japan.

“It’s hard to explain,” Tosi said with a softness in his eyes. “I think we both entered into the relationship thinking it would be a temporary thing, and then when I got back on the plane at the end of the semester, I left with a pretty heavy heart.”

They married after graduation and moved to New York while Tosi earned his doctoral degree at Columbia University, attending New York University afterward for postdoctoral research. 

Tosi and Kyoko waited to start a family, but when he got hired at the medical examiner’s office, they were finally able to have children. He has two kids: son Taizo, 10, and daughter Miyo, 7.

Tosi had to learn to balance family life with the demands of the office. Some of his more stressful moments at work happened in the courtroom. 

“It’s like on TV to some degree,” Tosi said. “The defense attorneys are really doing everything they can to rattle you. They’re slamming things down and barking at you; this can go on for hours.”

At times like these, Tosi knew he couldn’t become frazzled.

“You’ve just gotta stick to a very simple answer,” Tosi said. “You always have to focus on the jury because if you lose the jury, you’re not doing your job.”

This, along with his desire to get back to academia, led to his departure from the position.

Kent State hired Tosi in 2014. Since then, he has set up his own molecular anthropology lab in Lowry Hall, where students work on their research projects.

Cody Ruiz, a student currently earning his Ph.D., was the first student to join the lab. Ruiz said the first thing that came to mind in trying to describe Tosi was Crocs.

“They’re huge in Japan,” Ruiz said with a grin. “We always make fun of him for it.”

Ruiz also mentioned Tosi’s love for one of his favorite music groups, the Sex Pistols. 

“He’s got a deep, obscure knowledge of ’80s punk rock,” Ruiz said. “You look at him and you think he’s just a man of science, but nope, he’s a big family man and he loves his punk rock.”

Danielle Jones, a graduate student studying anthropology, also works in the lab. When she was about to study abroad for the first time, Tosi was one of the faculty that helped ease her worries. He invited her to lunch with him and another professor.

“I don’t think he knew I was really nervous, but it really helped,” Jones said. “I was really glad that he thought to do that because just that little bit of support really helped me feel prepared.”

Even though he no longer works in New York City, Tosi still has his hands full.

His children are an important part of his life. In his office, there are colored, cartoon pizzas affectionately addressed to “Papa.”

“I think I’m a naturally anxious person,” Tosi said. “Now that I’ve got kids, I’m absolutely protective of them. I’ve seen a whole lot of Louisville sluggers that people have used to beat the hell out of each other.”

During one particular indecent in New Jersey, Tosi jumped to conclusions when he watched a man take a baseball bat out of his trunk. 

“My first thought was something criminal, but then it was actually this guy showing his friend his new baseball bat,” Tosi said. “I’m not even thinking about baseball anymore; I’m thinking about assault.”

Tosi knew it was important their children were raised to be aware of their heritage. In addition to having Japanese names, they also attend a Japanese school in Cleveland on Saturdays and visit Japan each summer. This way, they can get more accustomed to the culture and brush up on their language.

“They’re not only bilingual, they’re bicultural,” Tosi said. “Dinner at home is pretty amazing. When the four of us are sitting around, they don’t even think, there’s no pause. They look at my wife and speak Japanese, and then they look at me and speak English.”

People often ask what their children’s “American” names are, and Tosi replies that they don’t have one.

“I was thinking that we were probably going to live in the (United) States and when people move … they assimilate so deeply and so quickly they lose their connection to their former country,” Tosi said. “I really wanted them to remember that they were half Japanese.”

Tosi’s search for balance between work and family is ongoing.

“It’s not easy,” Tosi said. “My son plays ice hockey, and my little girl is a swimmer. I’m here during the day and then after they go to sleep, I’ll work from home. It’s really hard to juggle.”

However, one thing is for certain when it comes to his children.

“Their minds are expanding in ways that I can’t even comprehend,” Tosi said. “I don’t want to miss these things.”

Logan Lutton is the science reporter. Contact her at [email protected]