Alumnus presents interdisciplinary research

To promote interdisciplinary research and healing, Zabdiel Ek-Vazquez ‘16 presented his research on the biopsychological effects of racism in a lecture called “Healing the Brown Body: Biosychological Traces of Racism” hosted by NeuroLawrence on Friday, April 7 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. There was also a workshop held by Ek-Vazquez the next day on how to apply his research to real life situations.

According to NeuroLawrence member, senior Deepankar Tripurana, the organization “wanted to bring in people who were doing fusion work that doesn’t fall into a specific niche.”

“All departments are becoming more interdisciplinary and we wanted to show students that alumni are doing [interdisciplinary] work,” continued Tripurana.

“[Zabdiel’s] research is really unique because usually people think of research as being stuck in a lab and diversity [work] as social justice education,” said Tripurana. “His research combines both spheres. He’s researching how stress and harm that come from racism and other ethnocentric beliefs [affect] marginalized people, like people of color, and how they experience it biologically and culturally.”

Ek-Vazquez presented this work on Friday in his lecture, which focused on how ancestral knowledge can be fused with modern science. He began with a demonstration of Tochtli—a type of dance—and asked the audience to guess what they thought it was representing. After a few guesses someone suggested that it was a rabbit, which was correct, as Tochtli means rabbit in Nahuatl—a language native to southern Mexico and Central America. Then he showed how certain dance moves reflect brain activity, comparing different ways the brain works with rabbits’ movements.

Next, Ek-Vazquez discussed institutionalized racism and how it affects health. He showed an image of children of different races all attending a school, with a caption reading “Diversity.” He then asked what was wrong with the photo, which stumped the audience. Ek-Vazquez then pointed out that the problem with this is that all the children were at what was clearly a white school rather than a school belonging to their own culture. Claiming that this image showed diversity was wrong since it erases the ways other cultures would teach.

Ek-Vazquez showed how this is also very present in science and medicine. According to Ek-Vazquez, there are myths saying, “science is white and healthy is white.” Much of their leading causes include the food, job, quality education and recreational deserts. Institutionalized racism creates these myths that persist in areas mostly populated by people of color and poor people. Some very healthy activities such as yoga and veganism have been stolen from people of color communities and need to be attributed to them.

Attributing these practices to the communities that they originated not only leads to encouraging more inclusive science, but also allows people to connect more with their culture. Ek-Vazquez then stated how people who can connect to their culture are more healthy than those who do not have that connection. This was shown with a study comparing the health of immigrants to that of their children.

To get involved in events similar to this, NeuroLawrence meets from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays in the Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science Room 127.