Integrating Difficult Dialogues into the Core Curriculum: Race, Ethics, and UAB
Our project occurs at the intersection of two new undergraduate initiatives at the University of Alabama at Birmingham: freshman learning communities (FLC) and enhanced instruction in ethics and civic responsibility. Three FLCs focusing on issues of race and ethics especially relevant to the history and mission of UAB have been developed and were first offered in fall 2007.
In two sections of “Exploring Birmingham,” students study the unique historic, economic, and geographic forces that led to the creation of this “New South” industrial city in the heart of the former Confederacy and the pivotal role that Birmingham played in the Civil Rights Movement. In an experiential learning exercise called “City as Text ©,” student teams go into the community to explore some assigned aspect of the cityscape, such as local neighborhoods, the downtown business district, transportation systems, or community service agencies. Analyzing what they have learned inside and outside the classroom, students gain a more complex understanding of how and why contemporary issues in the city continue to reflect racial, ethnic, and cultural differences.
In “Contemporary Moral and Social Issues," students explore ethical and social issues related to ethnicity that arise in scientific research. Biomedical science in particular presents complex, potentially divisive situations. Research sometimes focuses on minority communities that have a history of being used in medical research in ways that raise serious ethical questions. Genetic studies in defined communities have the potential to reinforce ethnic stereotypes by privileging biological explanations for problems that are linked to social inequities. Students focus on understanding competing traditions and arguments on the ethical, legal and social-religious issues concerning the place of biology in human identity, a subject of intense relevance at an institution with an internationally known health research center and multiple health-related majors.
Educational modules--backgound reading, content outlines, and video material for discussion--with parallel content have been developed for use in upper-level courses and are available for public use at http://main.uab.edu/Sites/DOE/ECR/difficultdialogues/47465/.
In addition, two free public events on the subjects of the FLCs championed the idea that respectful dissent and dialogue are necessary components of critical thinking, rational decision-making, and the educational process:
September 13, 2007
Presentation by Angela Davis "Leadership & Democracy"
Alys Stephens Center
Special dialogue with Students
Spencer Honors House
November 9, 2007
Conference on Race, Genetics, and Medicine
8:30 am - 12 pm
Keynote speaker: Dr. Troy Duster, former president of the American Sociological Association
Featured presenters: Dr. Jose Fernandez and Dr. Adewale Troutman