On the left side, text reads: "Addressing Race, Health, and Science in the Classroom: LabXchange's RDEISE Project." On the right side are two hexagons with images of two women. The top hexagon shows Dr. Udodiri Okwandu, a Black woman with black hair wearing a white top. The bottom hexagon shows Dr. Nicole Sjoblom, a white woman with brown hair wearing a blue blazer.

Addressing Race, Health, and Science in the Classroom

In a recent virtual discussion on integrating race, health, and science into the classroom, Dr. Odidiri Okwandu and Dr. Nicole Sjoblom addressed the importance of starting discussions around race and how to integrate LabXchange's Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education (RDEISE) resources into educational spaces.

Dr. Udodiri Okwandu earned her PhD in the history of science at Harvard University; her research focuses on the history of racial and gender inequities in medicine. She began her involvement with RDEISE as a graduate fellow, and stayed on as a research and content development fellow. Dr. Nicole Sjoblom is the relationship manager at LabXchange as well as a trained scientist and advocate for STEM diversity with K-18 education experience utilizing inclusive pedagogy.

Developed in collaboration with leading scholars and experts, RDEISE guides learners to identify and transform structures that perpetuate racial inequity in health care, education, and STEM fields in the US. It aims to challenge the perception that science is independent of social issues, promotes inclusive and accessible science education, and equips educators with what they need to address these topics in the classroom. The first complete learning cluster, Racism as a Public Health Crisis, is aimed at high school and college learners, and explores the concept of race in the context of science, medicine, and public health.

Watch a recording of the virtual discussion here:

Why should we discuss race in the science classroom?

“It's indisputable that the medical and scientific enterprise have produced immense advances,” noted Dr. Okwandu. “However, just because science and medicine work doesn't mean that we can't also interrogate and challenge the authority granted to it, and understand the ways in which it can also serve to shape the world in perhaps more challenging or less beneficial ways.” Creating a space for discussing race in the classroom thus helps contextualize scientific innovations and discoveries.

Discussing race in the classroom also fosters students’ empathy and a deeper understanding of broader societal implications. “The goal of this project is to really think about the fact that race is not a static category—it's something that has been produced over time,” said Dr. Okwandu. “Once you have a deeper understanding of this history and its implications, students begin to foster more empathy and begin to think more critically about the long-term ramifications of the work that they're doing.”

Resources for educators

Interdisciplinary, interactive, inclusive, and accessible, Racism as a Public Health Crisis connects race with science and medicine to acknowledge and amend the effects of racism and is designed for use in a variety of learning contexts. These resources align with anthropology, biology, environmental science, public health, and medicine course topics and standards to create inclusive learning opportunities. Suggested course integrations include:

Anthropology: Comparing race and ethnicity, understanding race and racism, exploring diversity in human societies, and cultural evolution.

Biology: Understanding inheritance and the variation of traits, biological evolution and natural selection, and genetics.

Environmental Studies: Investigating human impact on the environment, climate change, and environmental impacts on public health.

Public Health: Understanding health inequalities and disparities, working towards health equity, health policy and behavioral interventions, and social and environmental determinants of health.

Medicine: Discussing medical ethics and bioethics, pre-med coursework, and considerations for individualized medical care.

In addition to understanding scientific and societal contexts, Dr. Okwandu emphasized the importance of encouraging students to examine and understand contributions from diverse racial backgrounds. “At the end of the day, science—STEM—is a collective enterprise. And we want it to be a space in which a diverse range of actors get to work together and collaborate to push the field forward.”

Stay tuned for our next live RDEISE webinar, coming soon!

Written by
Ilyana Sawka
Outreach & Communications Manager

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