Each summer, Carlow’s incoming first-year students are asked to read the same book, which becomes a foundation for discussion throughout their first year at Carlow University. This year, the incoming first-year class is asked to read, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. Published in 2010, it was the 2011 winner of the National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps the public understand topics in science, engineering, or medicine. It is the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, and whose cancer cells were harvested and used for medical research without compensation and without her or her family’s consent.
While we are an institution of higher education and list the value of discovery as one of our core values, as a Mercy institution, we also are grounded in social justice and honor the value of sacredness of creation. Our community is founded on respect for each person and for all of creation, and after reading about Henrietta Lacks and her story, it is hoped that our students will have a better understanding of ethics, social responsibility, and have a desire to work for the good of all humankind in whatever academic discipline they may follow.
Therefore, in union with the Class of 2021, I am asking our faculty, staff, and students to read this important book – and that we engage in reflection, discussion, and action to do what we can to extend the Mercy values.
On Carlow Day, September 19th, Professor Bill Schweers, the inaugural executive director of the Atkins Endowed Center for Ethics, will be the keynote speaker. Following the address, we will have a panel discussion to introduce the four topic areas connected to the common reader that will be used throughout the year for a series of mini-lectures. The topic areas and months they will be highlighted are as follows: mental health (October), ethics and healthcare (November), race and class (February), and communication (March).
Throughout the academic year, I will be asking the Carlow community to find ways to get people talking about Mercy values – and to engage others in these conversations as we continue to work together to create a just and merciful world.
The book is available in Carlow’s library and can also be purchased online.