O’Brien Presents 2019 Going Lecture

Jerry O’Brien, PhD, professor of social work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, presented a thought-provoking look into the history of eugenics and how it relates to current and future genetic research and the social model of disability during the annual William and Margaret Going Endowed Professorship public lecture held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Morris University Center.

O’Brien received the William and Margaret Going Endowed Professorship Award in February 2019. This award is bestowed annually to College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) faculty who fundamentally connect their scholarship to their teaching and transform students’ lives. During his 21 years in the SIUE Department of Social Work, O’Brien has been committed to involving his students in his research as collaborators and co-authors.

“The William and Margaret Going Endowed Professorship Award is the highest honor in the College of Arts and Sciences and given to faculty who truly embody our teacher-scholar ideal,” said CAS Dean Greg Budzban, PhD. “Dr. O’Brien’s distinguished career, outstanding scholarship and impact on his students’ lives are a wonderful example of this ideal.”

O’Brien’s lecture, titled “Eugenics, Genetic Innovations and the Minority Group Model of Disability,” focused on his research for his fourth book, which he is currently writing. This research centers on the history of eugenics and how current genetic research, such as CRISPR and prenatal testing, is considered by some to be a new form of eugenics. O’Brien brings a disability perspective to these issues, discussing in his lecture the concerns of disability advocates about the conflicting messages used in society – embracing individuals with disabilities while also working to eliminate disabilities in the future.

“One of the reasons I focused on this topic is because with genetic research gearing up, this comes up a lot,” explained O’Brien. “Some people say this is a new eugenics. In some ways that’s true and in some ways it’s not. I’m focusing on that and also on the disability angle because a lot of people with disabilities are quite concerned about these developments.”

To conclude his lecture, O’Brien provided recommendations for the future of this topic. He discussed the need to include a wide variety of perspectives in this conversation while ensuring support and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. O’Brien also spoke about society’s conflicting messages regarding individuals with disabilities and the importance of clarifying the pessimistic outlook and negative language often used to describe this group.

O’Brien’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion featuring Dominic Dorsey, SIUE ACCESS Office director, Alison Reiheld, PhD, associate professor in the SIUE Department of Philosophy, and Duff Wrobbel, PhD, professor and chair of the SIUE Department of Applied Communication Studies. The panel members provided their unique perspectives on the topic before joining O’Brien in answering questions from the audience.

Photo: Jerry O’Brien, PhD, professor of social work, presents the 2019 William and Margaret Going Endowed Professorship public lecture.


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