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Professors review new Bearkats Read to Succeed book

Contributing Reporter

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 00:05

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was presented to Sam Houston State University’s professors and administrators, by the PACE center and Student Success Initiatives who hosted a faculty preview luncheon on Friday in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom. 

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot is the latest book to be added to the Bearkats Read to Succeed program for the 2012-2013 school year.

This is the fifth year that the Bearkats Read to Succeed program will introduce a book to the incoming freshman students as their first academic experience as they begin coming to college.

Each year, the Bearkats Read to Succeed program chooses a book that will, “create a common academic and intellectual experience for incoming freshman, facilitate a campus-wide cross-disciplinary conversation, and enhance the community among students, faculty and staff,” according to the Bearkats Read to Succeed webpage.

The luncheon consisted of five special speakers who covered various topics including the historical, ethical and scientific perspectives of the book and its curricular involvement within the classroom.

After lunch was served, Todd Primm, Ph.D. of Biological Sciences, took the stage to give his presentation on what HeLa cells are and how much of a contribution they have been to major scientific and medical discoveries.

“HeLa cells have Human papillomavirus (HPV) which contributed to Henrietta’s tumor,” Primm said. “HeLa cells are considered ‘immortal’ because they grow when you don’t want them to and don’t when you do want them to.”

The chemistry behind the HeLa cells was presented by Donovan Haines, Ph.D. of the SHSU Chemistry department.

Donovan shared with the luncheon’s attendees about his personal experience with cancer and his educational program in which he connects with students through cancer.

In this course, offered through SHSU’s Chemistry department, Donovan teaches students about cancer and some questions that people who have cancer might be concerned about.

“We started out with the question, ‘Does sugar ‘feed’ cancer?’,” Donovan said. “Most students have responded well to doing research on life and death questions and treatments that cancer patients go through. To answer the question of ‘does sugar ‘feed’ cancer, it’s complicated and still being debated.”

Diana Buccafurni of the SHSU Psychology department was the next speaker with her presentation on the bioethics that concerned the moral and ethical issues dealing with Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cells.

“Bioethics is the medical practice at a moral point of view,” Buccafurni said. “Meaning that doctors should be more careful when treating people like Henrietta Lacks.”

In terms of fair treatment and consenting medical practice, Henrietta Lacks did not receive either.

“As a black, African American woman, she was not fully thought of as a person,” Buccafurni said.

Next was Rhonda Callaway, Ph.D., of SHSU’s Political Science department with her presentation on how to help teachers and professors use “The Immortal Life…” in their classrooms alongside their curriculum. 

“I used the book before it became a ‘reader’ as a way to introduce research and human rights learning to students.”

Callaway demonstrates how the book is broken down into sections to easily present the book as a method of teaching by assigning a section for students to read to go along with the professor’s curriculum.

“Part I explains Henrietta’s life before the tumor,” Callaway said. “Part II deals with Henrietta’s cancer and death, while part III focuses on her ‘immortal’ cells.”

Finishing up the special speakers series was Bernadette Pruitt, Ph.D., of SHSU’s History department with her presentation called “Jim Crow: The Truimph of White Supremacy, Blackness in Reverse, & The Long Road to Citizenship, 1865-1954.”

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