In alignment with the mission of Morehouse College to assume special responsibility for teaching the history and culture of Black people, I infuse my science teaching with an intentional appreciation for the history, culture, and contributions of Black people and the African diaspora. Like many of my colleagues, I strive to infuse my instruction with cultural and historical content so that our students see themselves in what they learn and can be proud of who they are. I refer to students in my courses as Biological Scribes and Scholars, and on examination days I wear a Pharaoh headdress (nemes headdress) to remind my students not only of the birthplace of civilization, science, art, and religion, but also that it is examination day and time for my #BIOSCRIBES to show themselves approved.
I have developed a first-year experience course on Men’s Health as part of Morehouse’s new general education curriculum. The course focuses on the biological, socio-cultural, economic, and gender influences that shape men’s health beliefs and practices. The course also focuses on health disparities among Black men and intervention strategies to improve men’s health outcomes. This is one of the only courses in the nation that focuses intentionally on the unique health challenges of Black men and that seeks to inform and empower students to develop culturally competent strategies and solutions to improve the health outcomes of Black men.
In the culmination of this course, using the design-thinking model, student groups conduct background research on a health issue of their choosing that is of particular concern to Black men. Using publicly available datasets, students identify measures of disease/health issue frequency and determine the prevalence of the disease/health issue at the national, state, and local level. Additionally, students include county-level data for their own hometown. Student groups then:
- Summarize data findings, trends, and comparisons and list the principal gaps in knowledge about the distribution of the disease/health problem.
- Summarize any current hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the observed health disparity and intervention strategies that are available for this disease/health problem
- Design and create a 30-second to two-minute public service announcement (PSA) to raise awareness about the health disparity among African American men on the disease/health problem and/or promote an intervention strategy to address the disease/health problem.
- Visit the Morehouse maker space facility to design and create an invention, improve an existing invention, or make prototypes or models to address the disease/health problem.
Student responses to this project have been overwhelmingly positive. Here is one example:
“In the makerspace, I learned how to turn my 3D online prototypes into a physical material item that I can actually use as a miniature model. One main thing I do appreciate about the makerspace is that it is not just confined to the use of engineering and other stem majors, but to all Morehouse students. Overall, I had an excellent makerspace experience and I will definitely be using it in the future for my endeavors.”
And here is an example of a student’s PSA announcement:
This course is also one of only two first-year experience courses that currently meet the new general education requirement for scientific discovery at Morehouse College (the other is “Science Policy” developed by Dr. Dwann Davenport). As a result of the very positive student response and high demand for the course, Men’s Health has been expanded to the chemistry program where Dr. Lance Shipman Young (Morehouse class of 1995) now teaches a section of the course infusing his own uniqueness into the core of the course that I created.
Years of research have shown that students’ participation in a first-year experience program can directly increase persistence and retention rates at higher education institutions, as these programs not only influence academic success, but they also drive emotional support and connections that are key to student success as a whole throughout college education. Developing the FYE Men’s Health course has been one of the most rewarding of my experiences at Morehouse.
Ethell Vereen, Jr., is an assistant professor of biology at Morehouse College.