The Society for Medical Anthropology has given its 2013 Virchow Award to Thea Lange ’13 for a paper she wrote while still a student at Mount Holyoke. The award recognizes work that emphasizes the social, political, and economic nature of health and disease.
Lange says she used evidence from her undergraduate work to demonstrate how students are “subtly trained to associate race with genetic markers.” She goes on to illustrate how conflating race and genetics creates a form of “medicalized racial profiling” that makes physicians less likely to provide unbiased care to patients.
More specifically, she looked at geneticists’ identification of the CCR5Δ32 mutation, commonly found in white populations, which has become associated with resistance to HIV infection. She argues that “attributing HIV resistance to genetics is not only inaccurate but, in fact, conceals the social and environmental factors that create health disparities.”
She notes that, ironically, these disparities are used as evidence to “prove” inherent differences between races. This, in turn, “creates a vicious cycle of rebiologizing race that directs blame for health disparities toward genetics rather than social inequities,” according to Lange.
Lange’s paper, "Rebiologizing Race in the Classroom and the Clinic: How the Conflation of Race and Genetics Is Reifying Race as Biology," was written for the Global Health and Humanitarianism course taught by Lynn Morgan, Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology.
The award will be formally presented November 16 at the anthropology group’s national conference.