Biology Seminar | Brian Donovan, Senior Research Scientist, BCBS Learning | Genetics Education Needs to Move Beyond Mendel to Combat White Supremacy

September 27, 2023
4:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Event sponsored by:



Blythe Boquist


Throughout history, the science of genetics has been used to support white supremacist claims about the naturalness of racial inequality. What role, if any, does biology education play in the development of ideas about the genetic causes of social inequality? In his talk, Dr. Brian M. Donovan will present data from randomized control trials (RCTs) carried out in schools to highlight how students unintentionally learn genetic explanations for racial inequality in school biology. Then, Dr. Donovan will use evidence from RCTs to explain how these harmful beliefs could be reduced through curriculum and instruction that enhances students' disciplinary literacy in genomics. Dr. Donovan will argue that the teaching of human genetics is not a socially neutral endeavor. It could produce humane or inhumane social attitudes depending on what we teach students about genetic variation and race. By teaching about the social and quantitative complexities of human genetic variation in order to challenge white supremacist beliefs, we can help students develop a better understanding of human difference, which in turn, could reduce the risk that students develop naïve and harmful beliefs about the genetic basis of racial inequality. Brian M. Donovan is a senior research scientist at BSCS Science Learning, which is the oldest science education organization in the United States. He holds a B.A. in biology from Colorado College, a M.A. in teaching from the University of San Francisco, and a M.S. in biology and Ph.D. in science education from Stanford University. His research explores how genetics education interacts with social-cognitive biases to influence how students make sense of complex biological and social phenomena.