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Biology and Social Justice

Biology and Social Justice. The Smithsonian Module: An essential activity for students in Principles of Biology (Bi 107) Takoma Park Campus, Montgomery College Alexandra Fairfield, Ph.D.

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Biology and Social Justice

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  1. Biology and Social Justice The Smithsonian Module: An essential activity for students in Principles of Biology (Bi 107) Takoma Park Campus, Montgomery College Alexandra Fairfield, Ph.D.

  2. A knowledge of science is essential to understanding civil rights and environmental aspects of social justice From National Museum of American History, “Science in American Life” exhibit.

  3. How do we define “biological aspects of social justice”? One connection between biology and social justice is Environmental Justice and its links to health, food quality, clean air, water, and land. “Environmental justice is the fair treatment, involvement of all people with respect to environmental laws...[where] Everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to …a healthy environment to live, learn, work”.---Environmental Protection Agency “Environmental justice [includes] the struggle against racism and poverty; improving the environment; the need to shift …[toward] social unity and global sustainability.”---1991 National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit

  4. Biology 107 Smithsonian Project Module Goals: • Get students out of their comfort zone. • View how biology and social justice are linked and who is affected • Learn about water pollution issues affecting their own drinking water from the Potomac River • Explore in greater depth sources of water pollution and its possible remedies • Understand that a knowledge of biology is important to good citizenship

  5. Biology 107 Smithsonian Project Module --Start with a working definition of justice: “Justice refers to a fair and equitable distribution of benefits and burdens, what is deserved or due, and the fair selection of participants, as well as the idea that participants should be treated equally” -- Visit Smithsonian National Zoo exhibit “Amphibian Alert” and view documentary short, “Frog Chemical Water You” --Write a paper that answers specific questions about Defining Justice Making Exhibits that Matter How Biology and Society are Linked

  6. Background Resources Bi 107 Students for Smithsonian Module Examine “benefits”, “burden”, “participants”, and “fair and equal distribution” in each of the following: • View online short “The Story of Stuff” • Frontline Program “Poisoned Waters” online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/poisonedwaters/ • Visit Smithsonian National Zoo exhibit “Amphibian Alert” and view documentary short, “Frog Chemical Water You” • Washington Post articles on Potomac pollutants and deformed fish

  7. Details the story of all the ‘stuff’ we use and of the hidden costs to our health, the environment and the lives of millions of people • Examines our consumer driven culture and students discuss: --who benefits and who is burdened. --are burdens and benefits fair and equal? --provokes discussion on how we define ‘justice’

  8. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/poisonedwaters/

  9. Some of these chemicals were banned decades ago. Yet they're still building up in our waters and fish. Legacy Pollutants

  10. Legacy Pollutants from Industrythe 1970’s to Today • Include heavy metals like lead and mercury, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) • PCBs in particular are very stable and persist in the environment for decades. • PCBs also "bioaccumulate" in animal tissues as they progress up the food chain • PCBs are probable human carcinogens and alter the development of brain cells

  11. Class visit to Amazonia Science Gallery • Tour Amphibian Alert exhibit • View “Frog Chemical Water You” • Meet curator for Amazonia Science Gallery • Discuss message of social justice • Discuss how to target audiences in museum exhibits

  12. Why should we care about biology and social justice? • Well, for starters, the students were asked, “What’s in your water?” • We read Washington Post articles on feminized and deformed fish in the Potomac River • We learned the mutations are likely caused by exposure to "endocrine disruptors," chemical compounds that mimic the body's natural hormones Images from Amazonia Science Gallery, National Zoo, “Frogs, Chemicals, Water, You” award-winning documentary

  13. Today’s ‘New’ Pollutants Come from all of Us! Environmental scientists find "emerging" contaminants and endocrine disrupters are found in everyday products such as: • prescription medicines that we excrete or discard then flush • herbicides, pesticides from lawn care and agricultural run off • personal care products such as face creams, deodorants, and • Detergents and household cleaners

  14. Why should we care about biology and social justice? • The endocrine systems of fish and frogs are very similar to the endocrine system of humans • The USGS research on the Potomac River poses some troubling questions for the 2 million people who rely on the Washington Aqueduct for their drinking water • Emerging contaminants pose a threat to drinking water because older filtering systems are not designed to catch all of them.

  15. Comments from Students • Now I understand how fast we are killing the planet • There is a lot of ignorance about this in my community—we need the ‘Frog’ film and the exhibit in Spanish • I’m going to stop using plastic bags and bottles • I had no idea that so much of our medicines are excreted and still affect living things in treated waste water • The ‘Frog’ film should be on-line or distributed to schools • They should re-shoot the ‘Frog’ film with young adults to teach college students how to reduce their chemical and carbon footprint • I’ve talked to my housemates and we’re going to start recycling • Can we visit a research laboratory at the Smithsonian?

  16. Bi 107 and its future with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History With knowledge comes responsibility—How can we best use our knowledge of biology and its importance to our everyday life?

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