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Black History Month: Biology Class Spotlights Bioethics in the Life of Henrietta Lacks

This month, Rumsey Hall is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting black change-makers in our community meetings and classrooms. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a Rumsey student summarizes the achievements of a notable black person from the past or present at our school-wide Morning Meeting. In the classrooms, students are taking a deep-dive into people of color that have made an impact on our world.

In one classroom, our biology students are reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The book details how cells were taken without consent from a biopsy of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died in 1951. Her cells, also known as HeLa cells, are unique because they reproduce rapidly. Her cells have been used in countless medical experiments throughout the world and even helped scientists create the polio vaccine. 

Students in Mrs. Butler's Biology Class discussed the first 16 chapters of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks this week. In their explorative conversation, students noted how the author's account wasn't just about the HeLa cells, but also about the relationships in Henrietta's life and the legacy of her contribution. Students mentioned how Henrietta's rights, and subsequently those of her family, were compromised because she was a minority. Her case brought to light an injustice in the field of bioethics that is still debated today. 

Students will continue to learn from the The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks throughout the rest of this month; however, the lessons they glean from the introspection on her inspiring story as a person may just last a lifetime!