Class of 2015 Explores Civil Rights

Civil rightsclass of 2015 is spending the year exploring the struggles faced by people around the world through the theme “Righting Civil Wrongs.” They read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot as the basis for orientation discussions in late August.

When Lacks, a poor African-American tobacco farm worker died in 1951 from cancer, a sample of her tissue was taken without her knowledge or consent. It turned out to be “one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive — even thrive — in a lab.” Known as HeLa cells, they gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio.

The theme was selected because it builds a bridge to important events and discussions already under way on campus. Other related activities planned for the year began with the staged reading of The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theater Project. The play examines the impact of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard on the town where it occurred, Laramie, Wyo.

Also in September, guest speaker Ray Krone told the story of being wrongly accused of murder, convicted to death row, and how he was eventually freed.

Later in the semester, the musical Rent, about an outsider finding a place to fit in, will be performed. The play “brings GLBT couples to the forefront and portrays a fictional world where characters’ rights are not determined by their sexuality,” says Mary Jo Lodge, director and assistant professor of English.