School Ain’t What It Used To Be

When you went to college, did you have to do any “pre-admission” assignments?  Maybe you had to read a particular book or watch a certain movie.  In past years, the University of California at Berkeley has assigned incoming freshmen and transfer students to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma , and A Briefer History of Time, by Stephen Hawking.

But this year, Berkeley is engaging in a more modern experiment.  When students receive their welcome packets this year, they will find a package containing cotton swabs and bar code stickers.  In preparation for the school’s “On the Same Page” program, sponsored by the College of Letters and Sciences, students are asked to voluntarily submit to a DNA test.  They are instructed to swipe the swabs inside their cheek, insert the swabs in the mailing packaging provided, label them with the provided bar code stickers, and send them in for analysis.

Once the results are in, students will be able to access their information – which will be kept in a secure online database – using the barcode.  And then they will be able to participate in the orientation program.

The idea behind the course is to identify areas in a student’s lifestyle that can be improved; the tests will analyze each sample for three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol

Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the college’s undergraduate division, said, “This is a very participatory way to get them to engage in the conversation, to have something to talk about with their fellow students and with the faculty.”  The college will host a website with optional readings, a public lecture, and a series of panel discussions on legal and ethical issues related to the emergence of personalized genomic technologies.

Schwartz continued, saying that faculty from throughout the college “are pretty excited about exploring all the issues around personalized medicine because it’s so controversial.” Regardless of “what kind of disciplinary leanings the students have, we think there will be something that connects them to this at an intellectual or personal level.”

“Science is moving so fast right now,” said Schwartz.  “If we assigned them a book, it would be out-of-date by the time they read it.”

For students who do not wish to participate in the DNA submission, there will be a variety of events and lectures on lifestyle choices.

Does anyone else feel skeevy about this program?


This entry was posted in college student, dna, health, privacy, school, screenings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to School Ain’t What It Used To Be

  1. goingalpha says:

    oh wow thats interesting!
    so its voluntary? well thats good…
    hmm.. idk if i would do the swab thing..
    actually i probably would.. it would be cool to be able to like, see my DNA kind of:)

  2. Joy says:

    My first thought here is I wouldn’t mind doing this if it wasn’t for a school. I feel it’s much too public and I’m not sure I’d want my dna posted online. I’ll think much more about this I know.

  3. SKL says:

    Skeevy is the perfect word for what I felt while reading this.

    I am sorry, my trust in academic types has been pretty much completely destroyed over the years. Mainly because they tend to be very biased. (Not to mention plain wrong half of the time.) I don’t know how you do science with biased scientists. And then you know your stuff is never “secure” online. These people have made a career out of influencing others to think the way they think. Why would I give them any more information about myself than I absolutely had to?

    Al Gore and Barack Obama were professors. Would you ship them your DNA?? Well, I don’t see this as any different.

    I am sure lots of young people will do this though, and they will think it’s pretty cool, until one day a scandal will break out, or the kids will get smart, and then it will be too late. I guess there’s nothing we can do about it – young people will always be easily led astray.

  4. mssc54 says:

    I’m pretty sure Wallgreens has DNA test kits now. Maybe I’ll get our daughter to bring home a few so we can tell them what we are good at. 🙂

  5. Laura says:

    There was a pretty extensive discussion on this topic on the radio, and much of it revolved around two things… putting the results on the internet, and the nature of the test.

    First, as has been pointed out, putting the results on the ‘net is just plain stupid. Even though most of us do our banking on the web, and have plenty of other info out there, we instinctively know that it’s not perfectly secure. Why put something THAT personal out there?

    Second… how many of these kids are going to look scientifically at these results? Particularly the alcohol metabolizing. Can you see it now? “Gee officer, my DNA test says that I metabolize alcohol really well, so your breathalyzer must be wrong. (Pay no attention to the grill of my car crushed around that tree.)”

    On the other hand, the class itself sounds fascinating… I would love to participate in something like this. IF the results were mailed to me. I’m much more confident that my results would be kept private if they were mailed to me.

    The other thing that *really* bothered me about this whole thing? This quote:

    “If we assigned them a book, it would be out-of-date by the time they read it.”

    Really??? So…. all those books that they’re required to buy, at $200 a pop… those are all going to be out of date by the time they read them? The math books, the English books… all those music theory books, scientific method books, the HISTORY books??? All out of date by the time they read them. Seems like a pretty massive waste of time and money, then, to be attending Berkeley.

    • SKL says:

      That quote about the book bugged me too. Any “knowledge” that doesn’t have lasting credibility is suspect. And any establishment that exists purely to devalue the foundations of our existence . . . well, you know where I’m going.

  6. Joy Rehnee says:

    I find this a bit creepy! A DNA test is completely relevant in some situations, and you can obtain this information through a doctor. But I sure as heck wouldn’t want to make it available to a bunch of strangers, and possibly the general public someday. Call me paranoid if you will, but along with the idea of having implanted ID’s so shopping for groceries, etc. will be easier, it smacks of “Big Brother” at the very least. And Lord help us if knowing how fast we can get drunk, or if lactose makes us sick (which is fairly easy to figure out anyhow) is going to teach us more than a thought-provoking book!

    Besides, all institutions screw up something. It took me 20 years to pay off my college loans to UCLA, which I did faithfully. And years later, they came after me, saying that I still owed them big bucks. Talk about a hassle…

    Love the topics you girls come up with!

  7. Nikki says:

    Gosh, I don’t know!!! Not too sure I want my DNA out there like that. But if it is 100% participatory, then that’s on them! I personally wouldn’t do it. Science is incredible, and fast changing, however science can be done without MY DNA. Good for those who do chose to participate though, it’s people like that, that keeps science going strong, I suppose! Great post, very interesting!

  8. lucy says:

    Not sure how I feel about this but its definitely an interesting program.

    There is some danger in this as some individuals might come into college thinking that their genes are responsible for their lifestyle. This could just give them an excuse to not take responsibilities for their actions.

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