From Book Editor to Lawyer, a Gamble Pays Off
Judith McCarthy graduates from Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a position at a national firm....
Rutgers Computer Scientists Receive Google Grant to Develop Personalized Data Search System
Computer scientists Amelie Marian and Thu D. Nguyen received a grant from Google to develop a personal data search system that draws from social media pages, personal calendars, bank account information, email, Skype conversations and work documents, among other things.
- Health & Medicine;
- Liberal Arts and Humanities;
- Politics, Law and Public Policy;
At Rutgers, Best-Seller Sparks Campuswide Dialogue on Medical Ethics and Morality
Lecture by 'Henrietta Lacks' author will highlight semester-long activities
If the name Henrietta Lacks is on everyone’s lips at Rutgers this semester, it’s by design.
Not only is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks the primary text for the fall honors colloquium of the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) honors program and the summer reading book for the SAS honors program and first-year students at Douglass Residential College, but the author of the runaway bestseller also will be the featured speaker at a key lecture later this fall.
Rebecca Skloot will present the Frances B. L’Hommedieu Annual Lecture on Thursday, November 15, capping a dialogue centering on issues of science, medicine, bioethics, race and the existential question: Who really owns a person’s life?
“We see this as a campuswide intellectual experience,” says Karen Dentler, an assistant dean in the SAS honors program. “It’s an important book, a book the students are excited to be reading, and our summer reading program is a way to create a small community within a larger university.”
Henrietta Lacks was an uneducated black tobacco farmer who died of cancer in 1951. Cells removed from her cervix months before her death were later used -- without her express consent or that of her family – in medical research that ultimately led to drugs used today to treat polio, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia and Parkinson’s disease.
The cells, known as HeLa cells, continue to be used in the study of dozens of other life-threatening conditions. Until the publication of Skloot’s book, few people had heard Lacks’ story or knew of her children’s hardships. Although a multi-million dollar industry arose as a result of Lacks’ unwitting contribution, her family remained in the dark – and largely impoverished.
Dentler, who presided over a blog that encouraged incoming first-year students to discuss their reactions to the book, encourages the readers to explore what she calls “the big questions”: Does the end justify the means? What is the relationship between science and religion? How do you balance the rights of an individual against the good of society?
The blog generated more than 1,700 comments from students, faculty and staff, Dentler says.
“There’s a fine line between doing what’s good for everyone and what’s good for the individual,” says Madhuri Swarna of Galloway, a first-year SAS honors student who is probably headed for a major in psychology. “The book and the blog opened our minds to these kinds of ideas.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks took 10 years to research and write; much of Skloot’s time early on went into tracking down Lacks’ children and winning their trust.
“We want students to take away an appreciation for the author’s tenaciousness, how she painted an extraordinary picture of what Henrietta’s descendants went through – they didn’t know what had been done to their mother, they were very poor and they could not even afford medical insurance,” says Tina Gordon, a 1972 Douglass graduate and president of the board of the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College.
The L’Hommedieu Lecture, open to Rutgers alumni, invited guests and members of the Rutgers community, has previously presented dignitaries such as author Doris Kearns Goodwin and anthropologist Jane Goodall, as well as DeeDee Myers, press secretary during the first two years of the Clinton administration.
The lecture series honors a 1926 graduate of what was then New Jersey College for Women, a forerunner of Douglass College. Paige and Nicky L’Hommedieu sponsor the annual event in memory of Paige’s mother, Frances Bradley L’Hommedieu.
The AADC, the SAS Honors Program and Douglass Residential College present the series.
“We’ve had great attendance in the past, but this book is so good we wanted to partner with SAS and Douglass Residential College to open the conversation to a wider audience,” Gordon said of the first-time partnership.
The day after Skloot’s address, the author will continue her dialogue with 25 honors students and 25 DRC students. Swarna, who so loved the book that she recommended it to her best friend and her best friend’s mother, is looking forward to the sit-down session.
“I want to ask her how she was able to remain unbiased while doing her research,” the Douglass student says, noting that Skloot told her narrative in a personal, reader-friendly manner. “With a science background, I understood all the biological and chemical references, but it’s not a difficult book for anyone to read, even if you’re not a science major.”
Swarna also wants to express her admiration that Skloot is using a portion of the book’s proceeds to launch the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which offers financial support to needy individuals who have contributed to scientific research without personally benefitting from that research.
Media Contact: Fredda Sacharow
732-932-7084 Ext. 610