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New BSCS Research Shows Genomics Education Can Reduce Racism–Broadly and Safely in US Classrooms

February 22, 2024

Science Publishes Findings in February 2024 Issue

A rigorous line of research at BSCS Science Learning shows a more humane approach to genomics education can reduce the development of racial biases among adolescents. BSCS Senior Research Scientist Dr. Brian Donovan and his team learned what makes this approach so effective in their latest study. And they confirmed the curriculum can be implemented safely and more broadly in middle and high school biology classrooms across the country. 

These findings are now published in Science–in a paper entitled, “Humane Genomics Education Can Reduce Racism.”

As detailed in the peer-reviewed publication, 15 teachers and 1,063 students across six states participated in the study. Teachers received 40 hours of intensive professional development before introducing the Humane Genomics curriculum into their classrooms. All student participants received both the Humane Genomics instruction and business as usual Mendelian genetics instruction–in different orders. Students’ knowledge and beliefs were measured at the start, mid-point, and end of the six weeks of instruction. 

The intervention led to a significant increase in genomics knowledge and a significant decrease in racial biases among student participants. Students also developed the beliefs that race is a social concept and racism is a real problem to be addressed. 

“We designed the Humane Genomics curriculum to teach kids scientifically accurate concepts about genomic complexity–with the goal of refuting racist thinking,” said Donovan. “In this study, we figured out how important it is for students to learn about patterns of genetic variation within and between US census groups. When students understand these patterns, their perceptions about race and racism change.” 

The investigation did not end there. Donovan explained that this study was about much more than demonstrating the curriculum’s effectiveness. He also wanted to explore the curriculum’s readiness for broader implementation across US classrooms.

“Our curriculum introduces complex topics and sensitive discussions into the classroom. So we needed to make sure the intervention is emotionally safe for all participants,” Donovan said. 

As anticipated, the Humane Genomics instruction did not cause students to experience greater frustration, anxiety, and confusion compared to business as usual instruction on Mendelian genetics. In fact, students of color reported significantly lower frustration, anxiety, and confusion when learning from the Humane Genomics curriculum. 

Findings from this study are estimated to be highly generalizable to 20 US states. And it is feasible for teachers to introduce the curriculum into their classrooms with 40 hours of professional development via an online platform. The new study suggests that when Humane Genomics instruction is implemented in a classroom of 30 students, it will cause 2 students to move from a belief in the idea that certain races are more intelligent because of their genes to a disbelief in this same idea. Among the other 28 students, humane genomics instruction should cause an average decrease in this belief. The data also suggest that the optimal instructional sequence to implement humane genomics instruction is after students have already learned the basics of genetics.

“We have more confidence in the Humane Genomics approach than ever. Our findings suggest the approach can be scaled in a relatively cost-effective, emotionally safe, and time-efficient manner,” said Donovan. “We are hopeful that one day, all students will have access to the genomics education they need and deserve in today’s world. And now, we get to think about what it will take to make that happen.” 

The paper in Science is authored by Brian M. Donovan, Monica Weindling, Jamie Amemiya, Brae Salazar, Dennis Lee, Awais Syed, Molly Stuhlsatz, and Jeffrey Snowden.


Please contact Lauren Novo at [email protected] to arrange interviews with the research team.