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Lightning Talks Highlight Faculty and Student Scholarship

The presentations were held over two days in the Institute for Inclusion and Equity during MLK Week at Ursinus.

Carlita Favero, an associate professor of biology and neuroscience, provided the Ursinus community with an overview of Supporting Inclusive Excellence (SIE), which provides opportunities to high-achieving students who plan to major in biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, or neuroscience.

Through the program, students have opportunities to perform undergraduate research, attain a paid internship, travel to science industry conferences and meetings, and participate in a co-curricular course for academic and career skill development, including time management and organization.

Ursinus students in the SIE program also participate in a “J-Bridge” program prior to the start of the spring semester that allows them to prepare for second semester biology courses that first-year science majors take.

Following Favero’s talk, Ed Onaci, an assistant professor of history, presented “Valuing Black Lives in the 21st Century: A Brief Lesson from the Black Liberation Movement. He provided several samples from Martin Luther King Jr.’s own words on the topic and examples of historical and modern thoughts.

The talk “reflected on the rationale of the modern-day reparations movement and how it builds on the intellectual legacy and ethical concerns of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of his contemporaries to the left,” Onaci said.

Finally, Mark Schneider, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college, discussed the importance diversity and inclusion practices in faculty hiring.

“I think it’s important for us to ask everyone, from our candidates to our most senior faculty, to be explicit about how they’re helping to support an inclusive community,” Schneider explained. “In addition to statements relating to teaching and scholarship, we [at Ursinus] require a separate statement that relates to the candidates’ experience and interest in supporting a diverse student body.”

“This process sends a message that we take the support of diversity seriously and that support of a diverse student body is everyone’s job,” he said. 

On the second day of the talks, Simara Price, an assistant professor of biology, delved into a presentation about her new course on biology and the African diaspora in America. The syllabus covers a variety of historical and biological topics ranging from human evolution, cell biology and genetics to a chronological look at the beliefs of many historical scientists when it came to race.

A prominent focus of the course, she said, is the historical significance of scientific racism like that expressed by renowned scientists like Carl von Linné, the father of modern taxonomy; Samuel Morton, who categorized humans based on the size of their skulls; and James Watson, who was widely credited alongside his partner for the discovery of the DNA double helix structure. Many prominent scientists throughout history have expressed views that saw black and other non-European individuals as less intelligent, and in some cases as different subspecies entirely, Price explained.

Price plans to dedicate several class periods to the incredible story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancer cells were used to create the first immortalized cell line without her knowledge or consent. While her cells are still used today for medical research, it still brings up many questions of the ethics of the situation.

Terrence Williams, assistant dean of students and presidential adviser for inclusion and equity, closed out the round of lightning talks with a piece titled, “The Image vs. the Struggle: The Re-Imagination of the Black Freedom Struggle.”

He spoke of his experience embracing the stories of thought leaders who went beyond the watered down, sanitized version of the civil rights movement that is often portrayed.

“There’s a thin line between love and avoidance,” shared Williams. He explained that Americans love a great story, but those he categorized as polite stories. “It’s important to go deeper and look at the struggle rather than accepting the oversimplified version of events that is often fed to us,” he said. —By Mary Lobo’15