SYZYGY

The concept of syzygy refers to the alignment or relation between different entities.The word syzygy is derived from the ancient greek words, syn, meaning “with, together” and zygoun meaning “yoked”. Although often referring to different relational concepts or dichotomies, central to all aspects is the idea of unity. Syzygy is applied widely from commutative algebra to Russian philosophy. In astronomy, it means an alignment of celestial bodies, of which a prime example is an eclipse, while in genetics it refers to the pairing of homologous chromosomes, which are similar but not identical.

The underlying concepts of syzygy, alignment and unity, apply deeply to critical studies of race and ethnicity. Although unity may be perceived as a societal aim, it also invokes important questions of diversity, power, inclusion, and equity. Indeed, the alignment of race, science and power in the U.S. has historically been fraught with exclusion, exploitation and oppression. This includes the secret 40-year Tuskegee study, done by the US Dept. of Public Health, in which black men with syphilis were purposely left untreated in order to study the effects of the bacterial infection, and the recently uncovered story of Henrietta Lack’s immortal cells, which revolutionized tissue culture, virology and drug testing, all the while without her consent or any knowledge of or benefit to her or her family. The explosion of genomics research has helped to debunk the idea that biology is the basis of race.  Use of these concepts and race terminology in laboratory and clinical research has continued nevertheless, and has led to confusion and potential harm. Likewise, the application of genomics to uncovering of individual ancestries has led to positive outcomes for some while challenging identities for others. One of the major components of slavery was the dismantling of African lineage and the impossibility for people of African descent to trace their bloodlines to Africa. Thanks to DNA ancestry, people of African descent can now have a concrete geographical and cultural understanding of where they come from. Some people believe that the sciences are currently reshaping discourses on African American identity, while others just think it is a new contribution that complexifies the idea of race. For Native Americans, however, DNA ancestry presents yet another set of identity outcomes and challenges, which link with political as well as cultural aspects of ethnicity and race.

SYZYGY will serve as the overarching theme for CCSRE programming for the 2018-19 academic year along with divisional partners in science and math. The aim of this partnership is to generate an open discussion of scholarly work that undertakes critical examinations of race, ethnicity, and social difference in relationship to science and math. Events throughout the year will critically examine the complicated SYZYGY of race, power and science, while also celebrating the many contributions and discoveries by African American, Latinx American, Native American, and Asian American scientists and mathematicians.

Together we invite other programs, Centers, Departments and Divisions to join us in enhancing curricular and co-curricular synergies around the shared theme and its variations!

We will be extending our annual Call for Proposals that will support research, artistic projects and programming aligned with our theme. The first deadline for proposals is October 5, 2018.