DNA Discussion Project Explores Identity, Race

Friday, October 21, 2016

Who are you, really?

For some, it’s a simple answer. But with the use of DNA testing, the answer maybe surprising.  

West Chester University professor Anita Foeman will discuss the use of DNA testing to start conversations about identity and race on Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. in the Wrightsville Beach Room in Fisher Student Center. The presentation is hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.  

Foeman, who teaches intercultural communication, created the DNA Discussion Project to help West Chester University students, faculty and staff understand the influence culture and cultural perceptions have on guiding and shaping communicative behaviors. The project’s goal is to encourage greater understanding of the science of genetics, the construction of race and the perception of ethnicity.

"I feel extremely fortunate to have Dr. Foeman on campus, especially given the fact the she was the founder of the project and has maintained it for more than a decade,” said Kent Guion, UNCW’s chief diversity officer. “My education background is highly influenced by the sciences, so having the ability to tie together DNA analysis with personal perception is an optimal situation. It really allows for personal connection.”

Over the summer, 23 UNCW faculty, staff and students volunteered to participate in DNA testing. Participants were asked what they knew about their ancestry, then submitted a DNA sample for testing. Their DNA was compared with other regionalized DNA samples, enabling a lab to determine from which regions of the world the participant’s ancestors most likely originated.

Participants were provided a printout of the DNA results, reporting estimated percentages of ethnic heritage. A post-testing interview was conducted, where participants shared their reactions to the information. Foeman will discuss some of the results during her presentation.

“I think this will be a fun, personal learning opportunity that creates a common bond through discovery,” said Guion.

-- Venita Jenkins