SENCER Resources Addressing Race, Inequity, Inequality

While inclusion and diversity in the faculty and student body are core commitments, SENCER’s most impactful efforts to advance social justice and anti-racism have been through increasing curricular attention to systemic inequality, bias, and injustice through a focus on civic problems. SENCER courses re-organize the content and “narrative arc” of undergraduate courses by making the problem, rather than disciplinary facts, the organizing principle. Students in SENCER courses learn the rigorous STEM content required to understand a the scope and complexity of civic and social challenge by participating in an evidence-based inquiry into real, relevant, and unsolved problems—problems that diminish our collective health and well-being, and have disproportionate impact on the vulnerable, poor, and disenfranchised.

A starting assumption of all SENCER courses is that science and technology are, and will be, essential in addressing and ameliorating these problems, whether infectious and chronic disease, malnutrition and hunger, climate change, pollution, sanitation, sustainable energy—the list goes on. However, using a SENCER “systems” approach, even a cursory investigation of these civic and environmental problems will inevitably reveal the limits of science alone in “solving” them. Science is never undertaken in a vacuum. No research is immune or separate from historical, political, economic, and psychological concerns. And, perhaps most crucially, it is essential to acknowledge how institutional practices and systemic biases of the science and technology community itself contribute to the problems, and even how they shape and guide the research and teaching that the science and engineering communities perform.

As an organization of educators, researchers, and administrators engaged in developing the knowledge and skills of future scientists and informed civic agents, the NCSCE and SENCER acknowledge that structural racism and other intersecting forces of economic and political oppression play a constitutive role in the “grand challenges” that science and technology must address. At the same time, the NCSE and SENCER communities are committed to doing the hard work of reflecting on how these forces historically have shaped the institutions and practices that we participate in, As systems thinkers, it’s our community’s responsibility to both make and actively disseminate through our various projects and meetings these connections in the pursuit of knowledge and social transformation.

In the next weeks we will highlight in this space a selected set of some SENCER courses, programs, and resources that tackle race and inequity as contributing factors in the social, civic, and scientific challenges that are their focus.

Teaching Resources on Race and Genetics, Genomic Research, Stem Cells

Troy Duster, Some Social Implications of the Molecular Biological Revolution (The Human Genome Project)


This SENCER “backgrounder” provides a brief summary of basic genetic principles and the Human Genome Project and provides concrete examples of applications to which genetic mapping has been used. The paper addresses the social and ethical difficulty in addressing genetic realities of race against the unethical uses to which such information can be applied and puts them context of the UNESCO and American Anthropological Association’s statements about race.

The following examples are used to examine the implications of Race as a Social Category and the Biological Realities of Physical Difference:

  • Blood phenotypes are used as a case study for illustrating the way that genetics plays a controversial role in the construction of race as a social category.
  • The use of DNA databases to create genetic profiles according to social categories of race that may be of potential help in addressing the specific afflictions and reactions to treatments and medications among particular ethnic groups.
  • The use of genetics to attempt to profile criminals and find root causes of criminal behavior despite spurious scientific links between genetic and behavior.


Katayoun Chamany, Stem cells and Social Justice

This interdisciplinary non-majors course provides a balanced view of the biological, ethical, legal and social justice dimensions of stem cell research. Readings span feminist, religious, and disability rights perspectives and promote and expansive world view. Info graphics serve as learning tools to aid students in their temporal and spatial understanding of stem cell biology as well as trace the history of stem cell-related technologies and policies that govern this area of research. A student-centered learning approach using role-play and case studies threads the course curriculum and asks students to use evidence to consider the benefits, risks, and trade-offs involved in social policy-making surrounding the use of human bodies, embryos, eggs, and cells in research. Students also generate outreach projects using print, audio, and video media to raise awareness and understanding of stem cell research and its implications for society. Student learning is measured using authentic and performative assessment


Kim Finer, Human Genetics

This course is organized around this key question: How will advances in Human Genetics, particularly data generated by the Human Genome Project, have an impact on society? Six years ago, Human Genetics was taught as a traditional genetics “content” course to nursing students. However, the huge volume of information generated by the Human Genome Project has changed the course dramatically. In addition to a basic understanding of genetic principles, students are now also challenged with ethical, legal, moral, and human rights issues that new information, research, and technologies have raised. The science content of the course includes the history of genetics as a discipline, how genetic material is transferred, genetic defects at the molecular and chromosomal level, sex determination, and gene mapping and manipulation. The ethical and human rights questions explored include the political and medical application of eugenics, genetic testing and privacy, science used to support laws against race mixing, the patenting of genetic material, genetically modified food, the therapeutic and experimental use of fetal tissue, and cloning.