In the spring of 2020, I was watching many of my students struggle with access to education, complicated by the pandemic. Many of them were juggling either job loss or extra hours at work, taking care of family members, online classes, and other pandemic stresses. The United States was reeling from the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, just the latest in a series of civil rights violations across the country. At the same time, I was participating in the first year of the HHMI-sponsored STEM Racial Equity Institute at Framingham State University, a 5-week intensive workshop designed to take a close look at racial equity in STEM.

This project grew out of that experience. A big part of equity, of course, is financial. STEM textbooks are ridiculously expensive to purchase. The project was initially prompted so I could move away from expensive textbooks in my 200-level Genetics course. But it quickly moved beyond that.

This textbook was developed with assistance from a grant from the ROTEL project, a multi-institutional collaboration among six Massachusetts colleges and universities. The mission of ROTEL project, Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens, is to:

[promote] textbook affordability, student success, and inclusion and equity to benefit all students, particularly minoritized students at our six institutions. The project will provide stipends for faculty to remix and/or develop accessible, intentionally inclusive open textbooks and other OER that reflect students’ local and lived experiences.”

This textbook was written with an eye toward that mission, with three goals in mind:

  1. Consider how social and cultural pressures influenced what we know about genetics and who gets to participate in the field today.
  2. Remember that people are not model organisms. When using examples from humans, be respectful that real people are affected by genetic differences we are discussing. We learn a lot about biology from looking at rare differences, but people are more than just a phenotype. Recognize that social significance is often misapplied to biological differences.
  3. Make education more accessible. Create an accessible online textbook that is compatible with screen readers and other adaptive technology, incorporating media that isn’t possible with a printed textbook, and which students would retain access to beyond their semester-long course.

This is a work in progress: please share comments and feedback where these three goals are not yet met.

While reading this text, I hope you will consider how scientists’ background, culture, and society influenced what we know about Genetics. I hope you will also consider how your background as a scientist is a strength: what do you bring to the field that others do not? What research questions will you ask, and what skills will you use to answer those questions? What connections can you make – with scientists and nonscientists – that will further influence how your work will be used by others?

Like all science, which builds on previous work, this project was influenced by other Open Educational Resources in genetics. Images and text are remixed from the following OER sources, and attributed within the modules where they are used:

 I’d like to thank many people who helped with this project, directly or indirectly:

  • Millie Gonzales and the ROTEL publishing team, in particular Richard Lizotte, Minh Lee, and Vicky Gavin
  • Michelle Cromwell, for inspiring conversations about equity, practical suggestions, and encouragement
  • Catherine Dignam and the leaders of the HHMI STEM Racial Equity Project, for providing a space to focus on equity in STEM and brainstorm ways to improve
  • And, of course, my family, for stepping up and filling in at home while I was working on this project.

Amanda Simons, Framingham State University

Framingham, Massachusetts, USA



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