Centenary College Students Work to Diversify Anatomical Models

Centenary College of Louisiana students Jazmine Carroll, Yosajandy Bouslog, and April Jones at the Centenary Research Conference in April 2022. One of their diversified anatomical models is visible on the left.
Source: Centenary College

Guest author: Jazmine Carroll

The legacies of slavery are prevalent in higher education. This is true of my school, Centenary College, the oldest institution of higher education in Louisiana. Records show that past presidents and professors owned slaves and that enslaved people lived and worked on campus. Almost two hundred years later, Dr. Andia Augustin-Billy earned tenure in February 2021, our first Black faculty member to do so. Meaningful progress is now (slowly) being made. As we work to improve equity in higher education, it is important that we develop solutions to increase diversity and representation in all areas.

Like most labs for future healthcare professionals, our anatomy lab at Centenary featured only models that were white, young, and thin. I am working on a project to change that. I was excited to join this project to diversify our anatomical models, along with my fellow classmates Yosajandy Bouslog and April Jones and our professor, Dr. Anna Leal. As a Black woman, I share the experience of many others in that I am rarely able to relate to the educational tools that surround me in the field of biology.

Since anatomical models can be very costly and there are very few nonwhite models available for purchase, we decided to paint the models we already had. Our first attempt involved priming gesso and oil paint; while oil paint was a good product for covering the models, the paint never dried. After four months, we removed the paint and gesso by applying industrial-strength acetone. In our next try, we found that the best paint to use was actually simple: acrylic house paint. After some mixing, we were able to create realistic, human skin shades with a variety of skin tones.

We intentionally chose to make a model in a darker shade because we also wanted to address the very real issue of colorism in diversifying spaces. As we worked on the hair and eyes, we also used a mixture of acrylic paint. In our goal to diversify anatomical models, our main objective now is to disseminate the painting process to other educators and provide models for other institutions and under-resourced schools throughout the nation.

Higher education carries on the legacies of slavery in ways that may not be obvious—anatomical models in biology being one such example. Relatively early in their educations, most students are conditioned to observe white bodies in educational materials, almost as if anatomical models are statues and sculptures that celebrate the white body. Above all, those of us who worked on this project want to assert that representation in higher education matters; the models in our new anatomy lab demonstrate that we celebrate and honor Black and brown bodies. We hope that by sharing our blueprint, we can contribute to the diversity of educational tools so that students of color can see themselves reflected in science classrooms and laboratory spaces everywhere.

If you would like more information about our process or techniques, please contact legaciesproject@cic.edu and they will forward a message to us.

Jazmine Carroll is a senior majoring in biology at Centenary College of Louisiana. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Centenary College, CIC, or anyone other than the author.

Anatomical models from the team at Centenary College (images courtesy of our guest author).