Professors Using DNA To Bridge Racial Divide, Focus On Our Similarities

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Our region is filled with a mosaic of faces, diverse looks, ethnicities and languages abound.

Our differences are often pronounced, but professors at West Chester University are trying to start a different conversation, where diversity becomes more of a topic of finding similarities.

On campus, we met up with a group of curious students looking to delve into their ancestry. They found an outlet in Professor Anita Foeman’s diversity project.

“The project started 10 years ago with a grant to look at diversity in a non-traditional way,” Foeman said.

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A decade later and the availability and affordability of ancestry DNA tests has expanded her mission with students jumping at the chance to explore.

“The way we’ve used it to get people to talk about race in a positive way,” Foeman said. “This project is humbling in that you start with yourself and the diversity within.”

Some students have already gone through the process.

We went on a journey with these students as they began the process, submitting DNA samples, looking beyond the narrative they’ve always been told about themselves. As they discover, there is more than meets the eye when they get their results.

I myself even decided to join in, exploring my own ancestry. After a few weeks, the ancestry DNA results were back. It was time for the big reveal.

My results: 59 percent African background and 40 percent European background. While one of the participants, Sarah, expected more Scandinavian roots, I didn’t expect to find any.

Our results sparked lively conversations which is exactly the goal.

“In our research so far, it doesn’t change someone’s identity, but it does soften how they talk about race and diversity.” At a time when headlines seem to suggest an ongoing racial divide in our country, Dr. Foeman is suggesting a new outlook, one DNA test at a time.

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