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Henrietta Lacks
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Tate Hurvitz
Project Director


Project Overview

What is the Henrietta Lacks Resource Center?

book cover Rebecca Skloot's Rebecca SklootThe Henrietta Lacks Resource Center is part of the Henrietta Lacks Project, Grossmont College's own Multi-Disciplinary Celebration of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In fall 2011, Grossmont College will be one of many San Diego County schools and colleges engaging in its own campus-wide, interdisciplinary celebration!  From History to Nursing, from Science to English, from Culinary Arts to the Dramatic Arts, we are ramping up for a curricular and event-based, campus experience. The centerpiece of the project is Rebecca Skloot's national best-selling nonfiction book chronicling how the cells of Henrietta Lacks were used to grow human cells in the lab for the first time, leading to such discoveries as the polio vaccine. Skloot's book poignantly documents not only Henrietta's contributions to medical science, but also her family's struggle to comprehend her legacy while faced with racial, class, gender and educational divides. 

Who is Henrietta Lacks?
Henrietta Lacks

Born into a poor, southern, African-American family on August 18, 1920, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed in 1951 with terminal cervical cancer and treated at Johns Hopkins University by Dr. George Gey, who, after taking cells from her cervix without her consent, discovered they continued to thrive indefinitely.  Lacks perished from her cancer on October 4 of that same year, but in the sixty years that have since followed, not only have Henrietta Lacks's cells been patented and repeatedly cultured for use in over 60,000 published studies, they have profited medical researchers many millions of dollars, playing a crucial part in clinical research on cancer, AIDS, and gene mapping.

Although a very lucrative industry has arisen around the culturing and sale of “HeLa” cells, it has done so without the knowledge or express permission of Lacks's family who did not discover their controversial use until twenty years after her death; they have lived in relative poverty and are unable to afford adequate healthcare--all with only rudimentary understanding of the contribution to science and humanity made by Henrietta Lacks's cells.

Science writer Rebecca Skloot's nonfiction book, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, is soon to be released as a film under the aegis of Oprah Winfrey, and in the classroom helps to frame questions about science and research ethics, as well as race, class, social justice, gender, and even the “essence” of human nature.  In short, Skloot's book is fertile ground for intellectual and cultural investigation and celebration.   

Why are we doing this?

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY for students to see the way that their learning in each subject area is part of a larger, inter-disciplinary and socially relevant conversation.

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY for faculty to come together with each other and students through intellectual investigation.

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY to collaborate and share resources with several San Diego County institutions (UCSD, USD, SDSU, Point Loma-Nazarene, CSU San Marcos, The Fleet Science Center and San Diego Center for Ethics in Science and Technology).

THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY to read a great book!

Who's playing (so far) at Grossmont College?

Creative Writing
Culinary Arts
Speech and Debate

Some of the highlights at Grossmont College

Curriculum Design
Integrated Assignments
College Ethics Survey
Page to Stage Performance
Film Screening
Essay Contest
Student Art Exhibition
Culinary Arts “Henrietta Lacks Menu”
Faculty Panels
Guest Speakers
Student Presentations
Rebecca Skloot  

Henrietta and David Lacks original wedding photo
Henrietta and David Lacks
© 1945, Lacks Family Estate


Henrietta and David Lacks photo (1945), restored
Photo restored by Karl Sherlock

UCSD, USD, SDSU, Point Loma Nazarene, CSU San Marcos, Fleet Center

Shared Resources Website:  We will share assignments, images, videos, event calendars, and discussion boards on a neutral website
Essay Contest:  The winners of our Grossmont College Essay Contest will be put into a pool with winners from other campuses–to be judged by a multi-institutional panel of judges.
Exploring Ethics Events:  On the first Wednesday of each month, September-April, the San Diego Center for Ethics in Science and Technology will host an “Exploring Ethics” event at the Fleet Science Center.  Each participating institution will offer a keynote speaker for at least one event.  Speakers will also collaborate with the ethics center writing group on an op-ed for Voice of San Diego
Guest Speakers:  Each institution is putting together a list of faculty who would consider invitations to speak in classrooms or at events on other campuses.

Grossmont College Contacts

Project Directors

Tate Hurvitz:
Joan Ahrens:
Sue Jensen:

The GC College District

Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Governing Board Members:  Greg Barr, Bill Garrett, Edwin Hiel, Debbie Justeson, Mary Kay Rosinski; Student Members: Christopher Enders (Grossmont), Charles Taylor III (Cuyamaca).  Chancellor:  Cindy L. Miles, Ph.D. • Grossmont President: Sunita V. Cooke, Ph.D. • Cuyamaca President: Mark J. Zacovic, Ph.D.

Site Design and Webmaster

© 2011 Grossmont College English Dept.
Karl Sherlock:

Last Updated: 08/09/2017


Tate Hurvitz
Project Director

  • Grossmont
  • Cuyamaca
A Member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District