Purdue Calumet ’book’ focuses on medical breakthroughs, ethical questions

Purdue University Calumet is introducing its One Book/One University initiative this fall with a selectionthat examines the medical breakthroughs and ethical questions stemming from the use of cells secretly taken from a deceased cancer patient.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot documents the legacy of Lacks, a poor, Southern tobacco farmer, who died of cancer in 1951. Secretly collected and multiplied countless times for use in medical research as the first human cells grown in culture, Lacks’ cancer cells have taken on “immortal” status.

They have contributed to important advances in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping.

“Freshman students received this book free at their New Student Orientation over the summer, and a variety of classes that they are taking in their first year will use the book,” One Book/One University Committee Chair, Professor and Head of the Department of English and Philosophy Daniel Punday said.

Through the reading of a common book, One Book/One University seeks to provide students a shared academic experience, while challenging them to think critically about issues outside the classroom. Through this campus-wide initiative, students may have more than one class that incorporates the book into their coursework.

In her book Skloot discussed scientific developments made possible by Lacks’ cells and interviewed Lacks’ surviving children, who didn’t know that their mother’s cells were being used until more than two decades after her death.

“[This book] tells a story about science, ethics, poverty, race and gender that is relevant to nearly every field of study here at Purdue University Calumet,” Punday said. “This is a great book for explaining to new college students how their various classes ultimately connect together, and how entering college isn’t just a chance to prepare for a job, but an opportunity to enter a larger debate about crucial social, philosophical and scientific ideas.”

Discussions and lectures about the book will be held throughout the 2012-13 academic year at Purdue Calumet. The first such event, a student discussion, will be held at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday (9/4) in Room 263 of the Classroom Office Building.

The One Book/One University committee of university faculty members plans to select a book each year based on suggestions by students and faculty.