The enjoyment of reading a book and tying it together with an educational approach has resulted in a successfully collaborative program on the University of San Diego campus this fall.
The USD Just Read Program encourages literacy and dialogue on social themes through a selected book. This fall, the university’s program is doing a reading project connected to the La Jolla-based Center for Ethics in Science and Technology and other universities and community colleges in San Diego County.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book by Rebecca Skloot, “chronicles the true story of how cervical cancer cells taken from Lacks were used, without her knowledge or consent, to produce a human cell line for research purposes. … Lacks’ cell line was so resilient and bountiful that it is still being used for medical research 60 years after her death in 1951,” according to a brief account on USD’s Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) website.
The New York Times bestseller has provided USD’s Biology and Ethnic Studies departments and student organizations the chance to interpret the story from many facets — biology, ethics, race, class and education — in presentations and book discussions.
“Not only do we hope to get people to read more, but it’s a chance to think about these important social issues. It’s a great book to integrate all of these, especially because they’re important issues we still face today,” said CEE Director and Psychology Professor Sandra Sgoutas-Emch, PhD.
The USD events have been spread out over the last month. The next two events take place on campus this week. Skloot, herself, will be speaking about the book at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2 in 600-seat Shiley Theatre. The demand for tickets was so high, a lottery for 1,000 people took place, Sgoutas-Emch said. The event is sold out, but books are available for purchase and Skloot will be signing books after her talk.
The USD Biomedical Ethics Club hosts a free lunch and book discussion from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3 in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall (SOLES), Room 127. RSVP by Nov. 1.
Biology Adjunct Professor Laura Rivard and students in Ethnic Studies Department Chair and Professor Alberto Pulido’s Research Methods (Ethnic Studies 496) class have given presentations related to the book. Discussions have been led by student groups USD Medical Brigades (biology perspective) and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS) for the Alcala Park Readers.
Sgoutas-Emch said the participation and support of many on-campus partners — including Center for Inclusion and Diversity, Student Affairs and Human Resources — has contributed to well-attended events. In particular, she noted that the work done by Pulido’s Ethnic Studies students, who read the book and did historical research on Lacks and on the impact of “scientific research” in communities of color, will be showcased among many student presentations from local colleges prior to Skloot’s appearance on Wednesday.
Furthermore, Sgoutas-Emch said there is a USD Just Read Essay Contest connected to the book. Cash prizes will be awarded for the top three student essays that follow the specified rubric. The deadline to enter is Dec. 16. She also said that the winning essay would then be submitted to a regional essay competition that includes students from UC San Diego, San Diego State, CSU San Marcos, Pt. Loma Nazarene and Grossmont College. A cash prize will be awarded for the top three essays and the winners’ work will be published on Voice of San Diego’s Henrietta Lacks Project Page.
In addition to on-campus events this fall, USD’s Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, Sarah Kriz, PhD, will give a presentation of the book from a research perspective in the spring, but a date has not been finalized, Sgoutas-Emch said. The Center for Ethics in Science and Technology has also done public lectures on different aspects of the book and will have more this year and into 2012.
— Ryan T. Blystone