Armstrong’s Common Read: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

(July 27, 2011) Armstrong Atlantic State University will kick off its 2011-2012 Common Read program with a keynote address by Mary Ann Bowman Beil, vice president of ethics and compliance at Memorial University Medical Center. The event will be held from noon-1:30 p.m., on Friday, August 19, in the Armstrong Fine Arts Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

This year's Common Read program will focus on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a work of nonfiction by Rebecca Skloot, and carry a theme of ethical engagement. The book narrates the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, who in 1950 was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Lacks died less than one year after her diagnosis, but not before doctors had removed a sample of her cancerous cervical tissue. The tissue was grown in labs all over the world, helping to discover new drugs—a fact unknown to Lacks' family for 37 years.

Throughout the fall semester, the university will host a range of events allowing the campus and members of the community to explore various components of the book, consider the broader issues that it introduces, and participate in public discourse. Armstrong faculty members from each of the university's four colleges—the College of Education, the College of Health Professions, the College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Science and Technology—will assign the book as required reading for various courses leading to classroom discussions throughout the year.

“The book addresses the topics of ethics, equality and fairness of medical treatments” said Lauren Camille Mason, Armstrong assistant professor of English and chair of the 2011-2012 Common Read committee. “It presents an opportunity for our students, faculty, staff and community members to learn about this extraordinary story and debate its implications for our society.”

The Common Read is the centerpiece of Armstrong's First Year Experience initiative, which offers programs designed to help freshmen students make a successful transition from high school into college and better prepare them to deal with the academic rigors of university life.