The passion and dedication of the steering committee and research fellows drive the Racial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) project. Experts and trailblazers in their fields, they bring their commitment to anti-racism as well as their lived experience to the RDEISE project.
As we continue to develop the project, we invited research and content development consultants Dr. Tina Lasisi and Udodiri Okwandu to tell us more about themselves, their work, and what the RDEISE project means to them.
A biological anthropologist now working as a postdoc at the University of Southern California, Dr. Lasisi will join the University of Michigan faculty as an assistant professor of anthropology in fall 2023.
Udodiri Okwandu first joined the RDEISE project as a graduate fellow. Udodiri is a doctoral candidate in the Department of the History of Science and a Presidential Scholar at Harvard University. Her research explores the intersection of race, gender, and medicine and cultural understandings of health and disease.
Dr. Tina Lasisi: I became interested in biological anthropology as an undergraduate. I have been fascinated by human evolution and biological diversity ever since my first introduction to the subject matter.
Udodiri Okwandu: My dissertation traces how medical understandings of maternal mental illnesses – such as postpartum depression and psychosis – have been used to rationalize the “transgressive” behavior of childbearing women from the late 19th to mid-20th century. In doing so, I demonstrate how these rationalizations served to either excuse or pathologize women in ways that (re)produced racialized and classist distinctions between “good” and “bad” mothers.I entered college intending to pursue a career in medicine. However, I quickly realized the critical role that history and education play in combating racial inequity and health disparities. Hear Udodiri Okwandu share more about her research on the intersection of race and medicine and her advice for Black students.
Dr. Tina Lasisi: I was invited to give advice on the biological aspects of human variation.
Udodiri Okwandu: I was approached to join the RDEISE project based on my extensive knowledge of the history of racism in medicine and public health. I was drawn to this project because it allowed me to collaborate with a range of scholars in a variety of disciplines and further pursue my commitment to shedding light on racial health disparities and health inequity.
Get to know some of the other fellows and learn more about the making of the RDEISE project: Meet the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education Fellows.
Udodiri Okwandu: I often reflect on the saying “history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” For me, this captures the intimate connection between our past and our present. We cannot truly understand contemporary phenomena without understanding our history. The medical sphere brings this sharply into focus, given that contemporary racial health disparities, medical violence, health inequity, and more are direct relics of the historical development of American medicine -- an enterprise rooted in racism, misogyny, ableism, and more. The RDEISE project’s mission demonstrates the importance of understanding not only the connections between the past and present, but also the political stakes of confronting this history.
Dr. Tina Lasisi: Variation is not a bad thing - human diversity is beautiful. The issue is when there are health inequities that are rooted in discrimination, and when people try to argue for the superiority of one group above another.
Udodiri Okwandu: Science is political and, consequently, must be interrogated, rather than perceived as infallible.
Dr. Tina Lasisi: I highly recommend the podcast Zora’s Daughters, which discusses popular culture and modern issues through a Black feminist anthropological lens.
Udodiri Okwandu: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice Freedom by bell hooks. And Syllabus: A History of Anti-Black Racism in Medicine, an exhaustive resource that lists close to 100 books on the history of racism in medicine from a variety of different angles.
Udodiri Okwandu: I often reflect on my own experience as a Black woman in STEM during high school and my early college years, when I was still pre-med. "I often felt isolated and unsupported. I craved mentors who looked like me and wanted to use STEM to promote equity for all. Making science education more inclusive plays a critical role in this process".
Dr. Tina Lasisi: I have seen a sustained effort in biological anthropology to teach about human variation in a way that dispels historically rooted racist mythologies. I strongly believe that giving people the tools to understand human variation in a positive way will be an important part of making science inclusive, and draw people to see science as a tool that can help dismantle racism.Udodiri Okwandu: Within the history of medicine, there is a broader investment in centering and illuminating the stories of communities that have been historically marginalized – particularly racial and ethnic minorities. There is also an increased commitment to using histories as a means to promote racial justice. These histories allow us to understand how STEM has perpetuated harm and violence and, thus, should promote a more critical interrogation of STEM and commitment to using it to promote equity.
We also got the chance to chat with content development fellows Isis Dwyer and Taylor Spencer about their RDEISE journey. Read the interview here.
Looking forward to engaging with the assets our research fellows have been working on? Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on the RDEISE project.