Bioethics Research Showcase draws varied submissions

Georgetown’s third-annual Undergraduate Bioethics Research Showcase drew submissions from across the university. Hosted by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, the Showcase is a juried exhibition of student work focused on ethical issues in health, the environment, and emerging technologies.

RANGE OF TOPICS

“Bioethics is an inherently interdisciplinary field,” explains Showcase founder Laura Bishop, Associate Teaching Professor and Academic Program Manager at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, “and the Showcase invites student work from a variety of disciplines and in a variety of media, from the analytical to the artistic. We love hosting the event because it highlights the wide range of undergraduate research and scholarship in bioethics done across the campus and actually inspires additional work.”

As in prior years, students from all across the university submitted work, representing nearly twenty different majors at the College, SFS, and NHS.

“The third year of the Bioethics Showcase demonstrates that this event just keeps getting better and better,” says Gladys White, an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown who visited the collection of student work on its first day of exhibition. “The quality of undergraduate ethics analysis spanning an ambitious array of topics is not to be missed.”

“The student work is just superb,” agrees Bishop. “Every year, I am amazed at the thoughtful and sophisticated work our students create, and this year’s judges were similarly impressed.”

With topics ranging from environmental degradation to public health emergencies to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, this year’s student work reflects not just the interdisciplinarity but the urgency of many topics in bioethics.

PERSONAL AND ACTION-ORIENTED

For many students, the submissions were also personal, tracing individual journeys from ignorance to critical awareness and reflection.

“The Bioethics course I took as part of the Georgetown Disability Studies Initiative flipped many of my existing paradigms regarding ability and disability on their heads and severely challenged prejudices that I did not even know I held,” explains Aamir Javaid (COL ’17), whose short video submission took home second prize in the multimedia category.

Lauren Gilmore’s (NHS ’17) short poem was inspired by her experiences working as a mental health technician at a local psychiatric hospital; Marnie Klein’s (NHS ’17) journalistic op-ed drew on her own experience as an international volunteer, to critique international medical service trips that veer into “voluntourism”; Bridget Festa’s (COL ’18) personal essay explored ethical and scientific aspects of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) from her unique perspective as an “IVF baby” herself.

Also notable were the variety of submissions aimed at making a concrete impact.

“Georgetown students usually aren’t content to just analyze a problem,” says Arjun Dhillon, Assistant Professor of the Practice, who served as a faculty mentor for two different student groups submitting to this year’s event. “They want to change things.”

Jamie Farrell (COL ’19), Carter Cortazzi (COL ’19), and Lola Bushnell (COL ’18), whose business plan for a specialized laundry bag to reduce microplastic pollution received honorable mention, are a prime example. From conducting on-site environmental research to testing a salable prototype to developing a sales and marketing strategy, the trio is pushing ahead on all fronts with support from a grant from the Georgetown SIPS Fund to, as they put it, “fight against the microplastic scourge.”

Anna Lauchnor (COL ’19) and teammembers also submitted work from a developing project, this one focused on protecting a dwindling population of Asian elephants from human-elephant conflict by supporting farmers in Africa and Asia. The team has established partnerships with organizations abroad and were recently invited to pitch their plan as finalists for this year’s Leonsis Prize for entrepreneurship.

Radhika Sadhai (COL ’18) submitted sketches and a plan for a children’s book aimed at children experiencing chronic hospitalization. “The book will create not only characters and a storyline that children can identify with,” she explains, “but also a medium to explain difficult aspects of hospitalization, such as pain, isolation, and instability.” Radhika was encouraged to submit the fully complete work next year for the recognition it deserves.

HIGHLIGHTING UNDERGRADUATE SCHOLARSHIP

Student work was exhibited for two full days in the highly-trafficked Healey Family Student Center at the heart of campus. Visitors browsed gallery boards featuring student abstracts and artists’ statements, flipped through academic papers, and examined posters, artwork, and poetry first-hand.

Winners were selected by an interdisciplinary panel of faculty judges and invited to speak about their work at an awards ceremony on the evening of April 5th.

The Showcase’s “Grand Champion,” Emily Chin (NHS ’19), was honored for her photo essay on accessibility at Georgetown. “The essay was inspired by the experiences of several mobility-impaired Georgetown students,” Chin explains, “and is intended to illuminate the lack of fit between their bodies and the environment of Georgetown’s campus.”

Chin took first prize in the “multimedia” category. Other first-prize winners included Peter Hogan (COL ’18) for his academic essay on agricultural globalization and injustice, Alex Lewontin (SFS ’19), for journalistic reporting on campus reactions to DC’s recent Death with Dignity Act, Patrick Soltis (COL ’18), for a short story on genetic enhancement, and Simone Wahnschafft (COL ’17), for policy recommendations on menstrual hygiene management in Ugandan schools.

INTRODUCING A NEW PLAY

In this spirit of creative approaches to complex, interdisciplinary issues, this year’s Showcase was capped off with a performance and discussion weaving together themes of race, reconciliation, and living organ donation.

Directed by Anita Maynard-Losh of DC’s Arena Stage, a talented ensemble of Georgetown students, alumni, and local actors performed a stage reading of “A Pound of Flesh,” a new play by Katie Watson. The play was stage managed by Daniel Wheelock, a GU sophomore.

Watson, an award-winning teacher of bioethics, law, and medical humanities at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, teaches creative writing and improv at Chicago’s Second City. Her play concerns living liver donation—a risky surgery—between a young white woman (the potential donor) and a young black woman (the potential recipient). Questions of what we owe one another and of the reality and role of reparative justice quickly arise due to the two women sharing a common ancestor: a great, great grandfather who was a slave owner.

Watson, who flew in from Chicago for the performance, remained afterwards for a discussion and Q&A with the audience. She was joined by Robert Veatch of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, a prominent scholar on ethics and policy issues around organ donation and transplantation, and Samantha Harnack, Living Donor Transplant Coordinator at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

Questions explored the artistic, sociocultural, historical, medical, and ethical dimensions of the play, especially their intersection with the ongoing conversation at Georgetown on slavery, memory, and reconciliation.

Emily Lett (COL ’19), who performed the role of Emily Morris-Viskanta, thanked the audience for attending and “engaging in such important dialogue,” and Georgetown community member Lukas Chandler, who attended the performance, expressed appreciation for the sensitivity and maturity of the post-play discussion.

“From its inception, the Bioethics Showcase has included an arts event,” says Bishop. “We’ve found that using the lens of the arts to approach a complex, real-world problem, allows us all to sit with the issue in a more open way with both mind and heart engaged. We walk away with a more complete understanding of the thorniness of the problem, its profound impact on the people involved, and its import for all of us in terms of policy resolutions. Deeply personal reflection and questions are inspired.”