Rated “R” for Research


UPDATE: The UMBC community has received an email and an apology from our president, and the email assures the researchers that there has been discussion with the Deans, and a faculty panel will be held. We really appreciate this, Dr. Hrabowski! Thank you.


A brilliant fellow researcher Riley Auer, an ancient studies scholar, had planned to present her work today in a prominent position at UMBC’s “undergraduate research and creative achievement” day (URCAD) as part of special interdisciplinary research initiative. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is classified as a “Research University with High Research Activity” by the Carnegie Foundation.

Ms. Auer was part of an interdisciplinary studies research initiative, “Seeing Science,” partnering UMBC artists with undergraduate student researchers. The student artists created artistic representations of the work presented by the URCAD researchers. These posters were to be featured in a prominent position towards the middle of the UC Ballroom. This position was meant to highlight the interdisciplinary nature that is at the heart and soul of URCAD.

Her work had not only gone through the URCAD research committee, but had also been approved by her faculty department and her faculty mentor.

The submitted and approved research abstract is below:

Seeing Science | Hao Wang, Stephen Freeland, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies; Viviana Cordova, Assistant Professor, Visual Arts
The purpose of this project is to utilize artistic skills and knowledge to visualize scientific research, thus providing an enhanced method for researchers to communicate with their audience. The process of this project involves the cooperation with Sarah Auer who researches medieval gynecology from ancient Greek scripts, focusing on Soranus’ studies about female reproductive organs. In this project three organs are illustrated digitally according to Soranus’ scripture: uterus, placenta, and didymi which are in pairs with three objects that Soranus uses to describe each shape: kylix, egg, and silphium seeds. Each illustration is artistically interpreted to assist readers’ understanding of the texts without distorting the original content. The process of visualizing science also involves a research poster design in which artistic principles are applied to direct the viewers’ eyes for a better reading experience. With texts, illustration, and design combined, Auer’s research poster is to stand out from traditional research posters. This work is supported, in part, by “Seeing Science: Science, Photography, and Visual Culture,” a public programming project organized by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture and the Interdisciplinary Studies Department.
Student researchers Hao Wang (left) and Riley Auer (right) with their poster at UMBC URCAD 2016

Her research and poster featured female anatomy relating to her entirely academic work on ancient gynecological medicine and women’s health in antiquity. The focus was on Soranus’ work with ancient gynecology. Some of his work is still incredibly relevant to modern medicine. The poster featured an artistic depiction of female anatomy, on a nondescript female figure (without a head).

“At the beginning of the semester Dr. Molly Jones-Lewis, my mentor for the project, was approached by a collaborative initiative on campus called “Seeing Science.” Originally the brain child of Dr. Stephen Freeland, a theoretical biologist, the project was aimed at pairing student scientists with student artists to create poster presentations that would make complicated scientific ideas more accessible to audiences outside of their field. Despite the fact that my project with Dr. Jones-Lewis was philological and not expressly scientific, the project sought us out because they wanted to pair me with an anatomical illustrator… For me, a key component to the project — which focused on the accessibility of gynecological language and the very nature of its formation — was the axis on which Soranus examined the female form. People often neglect to consider how and why we conceptualize our bodies, so re-positioning the female form into what is both a natural examination position and a distinctly alien anatomical position proved to be a vital component to discussing the formation of gynecological language.” — Riley Auer
“Advisory Note” placed on the door of the UC Ballroom

Nothing about the work could have been construed as sexual, until a university representative informed Auer that her work had been moved to the back of the UC Ballroom, “near the stage.” It was not until 7:00 pm the night before that her poster was moved from the “Seeing Science” feature section, without discussion. Auer’s faculty mentor was not even consulted.

EDIT: I have now been informed that these signs actually framed a “corridor” of the room. This corridor also featured posters depicting scientific research on domestic violence and HIV. The abstract titles of this research was “The Association Between Intimate Partner Violence and Financial Stress in Newlywed Couples” and “Characterization of the HIV-1 5’UTR Dimerization Mechanism.”

To reiterate: there was no discussion, no consultation, no question. The poster was simply moved with a little tag attached to the two switched posters directing attendees to the new location (at the last minute, I should add).

Three signs were placed around the perimeter of the URCAD presentation area, informing attendees that “certain research posters may contain content that may be inappropriate for children under the age of 17.” (Having seen the poster firsthand, I can guarantee you I’ve seen much racier stuff gracing the pages of my seventh grade biology textbook.)

Can we not talk about female anatomy and health in a purely academic setting?

This isn’t pornography, it’s academic achievement and research.

As a friend of this researcher, I’ve seen her work tirelessly for months now. Why didn’t they raise issue or concern before today? Why didn’t they consult her faculty mentor or academic department? This is an event and university that paints itself as inclusive and welcoming of student research and creative achievement. Seriously, how is this okay, UMBC?

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