Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Darcy Metcalfe, winner of the 2021 Spriesterbach Prize in the Humanities and Fine Arts division, aims to bring awareness to the health disparities in the medical field through her research in biomedical ethics.

Darcy Metcalfe

“I tell a medical history,” Metcalfe explains. “It’s told through a multidisciplinary lens in which I use legal scholarships, histories, theologies, ethics, and philosophies to unveil how racism was constructed in the U.S. and how it has been foundational in our medical systems.”

Issues regarding racial injustices became a prominent topic in Metcalfe’s life after adopting her son in 2015. She understood her child growing up as a Black person in America would differ from her personal life experiences. Metcalfe’s drive to investigate the discrimination many face in the US today drew her to pursue her PhD in religious studies at the University of Iowa.

“I really had a wake-up call when my son was born that I had to understand the history of racism and its repercussions in the United States in order to be the best mother to him,” Metcalfe says. “I set out this undertaking to understand the medical history in the US and how it specifically effects Black women and their reproductive health.”

Metcalfe’s dissertation argues that embryonic inheritable genetic modification (EIGM) poses harm to Black women’s reproductive health. To tackle the morality of EIGM, Metcalfe grounds her methodology in the works of Pauli Murray, a forgotten figure in American social activism. Murray fought for equity for all and served as a mentor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, broke boundaries for gender identity, and aided in the dismantling of Jim Crow laws with her interpretations of the US Constitution.

“Something I learned from Murray is that everything is interconnected and dependent on one another. Not only with people, but with everything that exists,” Metcalfe says. “That’s what drew me to her in addition to the realization that no one has been tapping into the brilliance of her scholarship.”

Metcalfe’s research takes place in the department of religious studies as it focuses on how Murray’s religiosity constructed her views on moral and ethical responsibilities.

“Murray transitioned to the religious field as a way to meet people at a real, individual level to develop a more holistic ethical approach,” Metcalfe says. “She understood that while the law, legal codes, and everything that contributed to systemic racism and sexism needed to change, ultimately it was the human heart that needed to change.”

Metcalfe at a podium in a church

While attending Iowa, Metcalfe worked half-time as a pastor at Zion Presbyterian Church in Coggon, Iowa and half-time as a T.A. in the department of religious studies. Metcalfe additionally received awards such as the Dwight and Hannelore Bozeman Fellowship in 2019 from her department and the Graduate College Post-Comprehensive Research Fellowship in 2020. These awarded financial supports gave Metcalfe more time dedicated to developing her thesis.

“The fellowship and research support I received was really helpful because it allowed me to concentrate while I worked full time,” explains Metcalfe. “I know I couldn’t have completed my PhD in the time I did without that support from the graduate college and the department.”

Metcalfe’s success at Iowa can also be credited in part to the support of her family and the religious studies department. As a single mother, Metcalfe expresses gratitude for her mother, who uprooted her life to move to Iowa with Metcalfe, and for her department for accommodating her lifestyle as a newfound parent.

“I was very fortunate with the religious studies department in that they were understanding of the needs of single parents at the graduate level,” Metcalfe reflects. “They supported me as a student and my family.”

After defending her thesis in April of 2021, Metcalfe moved back to Ohio and recently accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of Findlay where she will be teaching world religions and continuing her work in bioethics. Metcalfe has a passion for the world of academia as it allows her to read, research, and investigate different problems with students.

“I never knew a career in academia was accessible for me,” Metcalfe explains. “I’m a first-generation college graduate, so I didn’t come from that background. It’s an amazing feeling to have the opportunity to be a part of that world because I’ve always had more questions than answers and am always searching for new and beautiful ideas.”