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Life lessons in genetics, race and social justice



From criminal laboratories to inequalities linked to COVID-19

And that’s not the only stimulating program offered by Hutch’s science education team.

In addition to lessons that build on Hutch’s own breakthroughs in cancer research, SEP units also teach how DNA is used to exonerate innocent people who have been wrongfully sent to prison; how the ivory trade continues to endanger elephants in Africa; and how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected particular racial and ethnic groups. Currently in development is a unit on health inequalities in cancer care, funded by the NIH.

While teaching testing, PCR testing, pipetting and other basics of a scientific wet lab.

In the unit ‘Conservation of Elephants: Ivory Cache’, students use gel electrophoresis to determine the source of an illegal fake ivory cache. The DNA Exemptions unit includes a kit that teaches children how to micropipeter, perform gel electrophoresis, and use small pieces of repeated DNA called short tandem repeats, or STRs, an essential part of medical identification. – legal.

But with science comes an important social context: students learn about poaching and endangered species, and how biomolecular research tools can help conserve valuable keystone species like the African elephant. They learn about mass incarceration and the inequalities present in our criminal justice system; they are taught that DNA technology can be used to free innocent people as well as to correctly identify perpetrators. The programs also contain lessons on bioethics, public health policies, viruses and vaccines.

Osuga said the idea was to talk about science in the real world.

“It’s not in a vacuum,” she said. “It exists in this messy place where humans live. “

Create national “agents of change”

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, said the SEP professor.

Putting courses online means they can – and have been – able to reach teachers not just in Washington state, but across the country. A Massachusetts teacher who found the SEP’s Race, Racism and Genetics unit was so grateful that he wrote a thank-you letter, calling the unit “useful and timely.”

Vermaak, who worked in a Hutch lab before deciding to teach high school science, said students loved the lessons, just like her.

“The lessons are solid and the science is good and the activities are very compelling and thoughtful,” she said. “What I absolutely love about SEP and the team is that they don’t just have the right science; they also understand the importance of speech and making sense in a room. class and the importance of rhythm I love this program.

Is it too political? Vermaak rejects the notion. “It is not political to teach facts about what is going on,” she said.

Of the eight online lessons, SEP professors said their new Race, Racism and Genetics unit resonates the most with students. Despite this, Osuga said the lessons can be difficult and even emotional at times.

“There is a lot of emotion surrounding this issue, which is why for many of our lessons we like to end with an action piece so that students can see themselves as agents of change,” he said. she declared. “It helped them deal with these big issues and use those emotions to implement change and it’s empowering.”

Unsurprisingly, in the current political climate, there has also been a small amount of backlash on the part of parents, but teachers at SEP said different school administrations have been very supportive of the teachers and the program.

“Some parents would say, ‘You try to make white children feel guilty! Why are you trying to do this? ‘ Chowning said. “We’re not saying you can’t celebrate parts of your culture or your ancestors. You should be able to do it and at the same time speak out against white supremacy and structural racism. Racism affects us all and damages society by wasting human potential. “

Chowning also pointed out that the program is largely a work in progress – and hardly a cure for racism.

“We are very clear that the program is not a silver bullet – you are not automatically going to have equity in the classroom when you teach this – but we hope it is a way to break a part. of that, ”she said. “Knowing that race was deliberately invented means that students and society as a whole can work to change the ideas underlying inequalities and their root causes. “



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