Plenary Lecture

Plenary Lecture

Ideas That Changed the World

Is Racism a Science Problem?

2020 Commonwealth Honors College Plenary Lecture


Presented by

Scott Auerbach, PhD

Professor, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering


Roderick Anderson, MA

Co-founder and CEO, Elateq Inc. 


The pre-recorded lecture will premiere here on

September 21, 2020, 6:30 p.m.


If you have questions you would like to ask Professor Auerbach, before, during, or after the presentation, please take a moment to submit them by following the link below.

Explore evidence supporting the notion that racism is indeed a science problem in at least four different ways. Auerbach will begin by discussing early scientific interpretations of data on race and genetics that have contributed to and supported racist ideas. He will then speak about the impact of racism on the diversity (or lack thereof) of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, which limits the ability of STEM fields to solve complex problems. Another way to explore this question is to see science as a possible source of solutions to racism. In this way, Auerbach will highlight the work of W.E.B. Du Bois as a groundbreaking social scientist who pioneered the gathering of empirical data to studying racism in Philadelphia in 1897. Finally, Auerbach will address the question, “Can the hard sciences contribute to solving the problems of racism?” Professor Auerbach's talk will also include a discussion with special guest Roderick Anderson, co-founder and CEO of Elateq Inc.

We are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to the content of this presentation. If you would like to request a transcript of the 2020 Plenary Lecture, please email

Registration is NOT required, but you are welcome to add your name to the list of attendees.


Roderick Anderson, MA

In addition to being the CEO of Elateq, Anderson is a president of the Pioneer Valley Coral & Natural Science Institute (PVCNSI), where he offers the planning and diagnostic skills of a social worker together with the analytics and stratagems learned while he was in the military. Roderick forwent completing his PhD at UMass Amherst in the Department of Anthropology, in order to launch PVCNSI. His dissertation research as a socio-cultural anthropologist focuses on Afro-American civic leadership, civil society, social movement theory, critical theory, political economy and the African Diaspora. These research interests emerged out of his experiences of attending high school in New Britain, Conn.; his time in the US Air Force Reserves (Westover Air Force BaseSgt. Security Police); ten years as a social worker for the State of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families; and eleven years of teaching in higher ed. He utilizes these varied experiences to engage the intersections of institutional and structural power relations of race, gender, and class. This unique background brings together firsthand knowledge and practical experiences that engage complex issues at regional and international levels.


Recommended Reading

Diversity in STEM: What It Is and Why It Mattersby Kenneth Gibbs, Jr.Innovations resulting from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have positively touched nearly every aspect of human life.



Scott Auerbach, PhD

Professor, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Executive Director, UMass Integrated Concentration in Science program (UMass iCons)

Professor Auerbach’s chemistry research focuses on modeling nanostructured materials, such as zeolites, which is important to renewable energy technologies including biofuels and fuel cells. He has published two books and 120 peer-reviewed articles on zeolites and their applications.

Professor Auerbach’s interest in the link between science and human diversity stems from his role as the founding director of the UMass iCons program, which teaches STEM-field undergraduates to use human diversity as a problem-solving tool by honing advanced communication and collaboration skills. Auerbach’s interest in the connection between science and racism is relatively new, and is intensified by the May 25th death of George Floyd and the militarized responses to Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

This plenary lecture is a special opportunity to launch a personal journey of reflection and activism to fight racism anywhere we can. I hope that putting myself out there in this way sends the message to our students that racism is an important topic for each and every person, regardless of what you look like and what you study.

Scott Auerbach, PhD