Montclair State Celebrates Constitution Day 2012

Photo: Mike Peters

New US citizens celebrate after taking the oath of allegiance at a Montclair State University Constitution Day event.

Hundreds of members of the Montclair State University community, government officials, guests, and neighbors from surrounding communities joined together on September 27 to celebrate Constitution Day 2012. Tying into the 2012 Montclair Book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the theme of the day was “Bioethics and the Body Politic.”

Created to commemorate the signing of the Constitution by the Founding Fathers in September 1787, Constitution Day is celebrated on many campuses around the country. At Montclair State, the day’s events were organized by the American Democracy Project (ADP) and featured a swearing-in ceremony for candidates for US citizenship, keynote addresses and a student leader panel on bioethics, and a talk and book signing by David Lacks, the son of Henrietta Lacks.

The day’s events were held in the University Hall Conference Center and kicked off with an opening ceremony. After Montclair State University police officers and yellow-ribbon veterans posted the colors, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Willard Gingerich introduced John Thompson, district director for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) who presided over the US citizenship swearing-in ceremony. Randi C. Borgen, Newark’s USCIS field office director, led the oath of allegiance for the 49 new American citizens.

The new citizens—who came to the US from 22 different countries—were introduced and received their New Citizen Certificates to the cheers of the more than 300 people in attendance, including 185 fifth-grade students from the Bradford School and Northeast School in Montclair. The ceremony included a rousing rendition of the National Anthem by the Montclair State University Chamber Choir and a video message of welcome to the new citizens from President Obama.

The first of the two keynote speakers, Jessica McCormick, the senior biosafety officer at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, spoke on “Bioethics Policies and Regulations – Then and Now.” McCormick explained current policies and regulations noting that in Henrietta Lacks’ day, there were no such regulations protecting patients and unethical medical procedures and scientific experimentation was not uncommon. Cases such as that of Henrietta Lacks, the Thalidomide Study and the Tuskegee Experiment are the foundation of bioethics, she said.

Montclair State Department of History Professor Leslie Wilson followed McCormick with his keynote speech, “Scientific Progress, Race Relations and Social Exploitation.” He discussed the civil and human rights issues surrounding Henrietta Lacks’ case, and gave historical accounts of discriminatory and unethical treatment of African Americans by the medical and scientific communities. Because of this history, there is a deep-seated distrust of these communities by African Americans that persists to this day, he said.

Professor Brigid Harrison of Montclair State’s Department of Political Science and Law served as moderator for the keynote session.

A student leader panel discussion followed the keynotes. The students discussed, “The Relevance of Bioethics and the Body Politic and Our Roles as Citizens.” Moderating the discussion was Chardonnay Crumpler, student representative on the ADP Steering Committee, and the panelists were Michelle Zuzock, Gil Balanzat, Marketta McPherson and Derrick Pitts.

Constitution Day concluded with a special conversation and book signing by Henrietta Lacks’ son, David “Sonny” Lacks. He was joined by his son, David Jr., and spoke about what it meant to him to find out—decades after the fact—that his mother’s cells were being used in laboratories around the world. Professor Brigid Harrison served as moderator. Read more about the event at David Lacks.

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Constitution Day was organized by the American Democracy Project steering committee chaired by Carolyn D. Jones, Executive Director, The Center for Career Services and Cooperative Education.