Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

It’s In Our DNA: The Power, Promise and Perils of Genetic Technology

In 2003, the final version of the human genome was released. In this learning community, you’ll explore what that means today in relation to DNA testing, genetic ancestry, medical ethics, and more.

three people, woman, man, woman, standing in classroom
Professors Maureen Peters, Baron Pineda, and Joyce Babyak inside a StudiOC classroom.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

It’s In Our DNA: The Power, Promise, and Perils of Genetic Technology

Offered fall 2020

This cluster brings together faculty from each college division to examine the biological basis of human genetics. It will contextualize this new form of knowing by exploring the relation of genetic ancestry to individual and group identities and considering the fundamental ethical questions associated with genetic technologies.


Course instructors for this learning community are Professor of Biology Maureen Peters, Associate Professor of Religion Joyce Babyak, and Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies Baron Pineda.

Maureen Peters, Instructor

FYSP 051OC Genetics in Contemporary Society
Meets Tuesday and Thursday11:10 am; 4 credit hours; enrollment 16

The year 2003, when the final version of the human genome was released, marked the beginning of a new biological era in which humans can easily access their own genetic content. What does it mean to read our nucleotide sequences, and how can this information be used or abused?

This course aims to provide a broad understanding of human genetics from a scientific and historical perspective, exploring the scientific underpinning of inheritance, genetic analysis, and gene modification technologies. Contemporary and future applications of genetic knowledge in fields such as forensics, medicine, surveillance, and other areas will be explored and discussed.

Joyce Babyak, Instructor

RELG 249OC Medical Ethics
Meets Tuesday and Thursday 3:05 pm; 4 credit hours; enrollment 10

This course offers an analysis of selected issues in medical ethics and the methods of ethical reasoning used to study these issues, focusing on attendant religious, moral, and legal questions. The orientation of the course is clinical, with case studies used throughout.

Topics to be addressed include issues such as death and dying, privacy and informed consent, organ procurement and transplantation, and global infectious diseases. Special attention will be given to emerging technologies such as genetic testing and manipulation, embryo modification, and cloning, as well as ways advances in genetics may impact other issues.

Baron Pineda, Instructor

ANTH 263OC Metaphors of Blood: Cultural Constructions of Race, Kinship and Genetics
Meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday1:30 pm; 4 credit hours; enrollment 20

This course will introduce students to anthropological approaches to the ways in which people conceive of their relatedness to one another historically and cross-culturally.  Although in the West we often think of biological relationships as objective and self-evident, people in all places (including the West) imbue these relationships with meanings that are drawn in broader cultural and religious contexts. For example, it is common to talk about family relationships using the metaphor of blood. 

The recent advancements of genetic science do not replace preexisting notions of relatedness but rather they are both embedded in them and interact with them in emergent ways.