UT Life of the Mind Panel Discussion Looks at Minority Achievement

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KNOXVILLE—In recognition of the University of Tennessee’s fiftieth anniversary of undergraduate integration, the Life of the Mind panel discussion to be held Tuesday, September 20, will focus on “The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks: A Celebration of Fifty Years of African American and Minority Achievement.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.in the University Center auditorium.

Life of the Mind is a common reading experience that gives first-year students their initial taste of academic life at UT Knoxville. This year, for the first time, Life of the Mind is part of FYS 100, a zero-credit, satisfactory/no-credit course required for all first-year students.

This year’s book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, an award-winning science writer. It’s the story of an African American woman whose cervical cancer cells, taken during a biopsy and cultured without her knowledge or permission in the 1950s, have been integral in developing the polio vaccine, unlocking secrets of cancer and viruses, helping understand the effects of the atom bomb, and contributing to the development of in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. The cells are known as HeLa, a name derived from the initial letters of her first and last names.

Four panel discussions related to the book have been planned, and students must attend at least one to fulfill FYS 100 requirements.

The September 20 panel will be moderated by Rita Geier, a civil rights pioneer and icon who now serves as associate to the chancellor at UT Knoxville. Thirty-nine years ago, out of fear that historically black Tennessee State University would be neglected by an expanding, predominantly white UT, she sued the state to desegregate its higher education system. Her lawsuit culminated in the “Geier Consent Decree,” which paved the way for diversity efforts and gave more than 1,300 black students Geier-funded scholarships to attend state universities. At UT, Geier has helped lead intercultural efforts and implement the goals of the university’s diversity plan and Ready for the World initiative.

Panelists include:

• Amadou Sall is a professor in Africana studies, a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary field which examines aspects of blacks in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe. His research crosses multiple fields of anthropology, education, geography, music, and political science in hopes of furthering the understanding of critical issues affecting people of African descent in all the societies where they live. In conjunction with his seminar on the history, economics, politics, society, and cultures of Ghana, Sall leads regular research trips to West Africa.

• Charles Houston serves as director of programs and diversity initiatives and is co-chair of this year’s campuswide “Fifty Years of African American Achievement” celebration. His family has a long history of achievement at UT: His brother, Wade, was head basketball coach in the early nineties, and his nephew, Allan Houston, who graduated in 1993, went on to play in the NBA after being the school’s all-time leading basketball scorer.

• Loida Velazquez is a retired adjunct professor and principal investigator who has worked on educational issues related to the Hispanic community for several decades. A Puerto Rican native, she is a member of Knoxville’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and does research in multicultural education and the cultural impact of Hispanic immigrants in Tennessee.

• Sgt. Nicole Collins has been with the UT Police Department for five years. In addition to serving as the international/minority student liaison and rape aggression defense instructor, she is responsible for recruiting personnel and maintaining departmental accreditations.

• Bethany K. Dumas holds both a law degree and a doctorate in English linguistics. She is currently a professor in the English Department and chair of the linguistics program. Her primary research areas are language variation and language and law. She has two books in progress: Writing and Using Effective Jury Instructions and Varieties of American English. She consults in legal cases and offers courses and workshops on variation and language and law topics. She is currently working on the role of dialect in non-fiction books.

The final panel of the semester, to be held October 18, will be “Undergraduate Research at UTK: Be Inspired, Get Involved!” It will be moderated by Mark Littmann, professor and Hill Chair of Excellence in Science Writing.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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