Towards Teaching a Humanistic Anatomy: Confronting Racism in Human Anatomy Courses


  • Marcy Ekanayake-Weber Stony Brook University



Historically, the study of human anatomy has had a very complex relationship with race and racism in the United States. Today, BIPOC students are disproportionately excluded from the health sciences, in part because anatomy courses play the role of “gatekeepers” for the health professions. Anatomy instructors–including biological anthropologists teaching anatomy-may passively support white supremacy in science and medicine by ignoring anatomy’s problematic history and by teaching in outdated, exclusionary ways, rather than using anatomy courses as opportunities to provide insight into structural racism and support the success of students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color (BIPOC). The objectives of this work were to 1) uncover how latent racism in anatomy and anatomy education may be contributing to marginalized students’ exclusion from health care careers, and 2) offer recommendations which will promote the success of BIPOC health sciences students and produce antiracist healthcare practitioners of all identities. Historical, anthropological, and critical pedagogical analysis of anatomy education was conducted. Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2018) was used as a theoretical framework for dissecting the ways in which the traditional pedagogy of anatomy may be particularly exclusionary for BIPOC students in the US. Pedagogical recommendations and recent case studies were collected from the academic literature. Anatomy instructors and medical schools are encouraged to develop a new, humanistic way of teaching anatomy, which requires extensive changes to the anatomy curriculum. Five categories of reform are recommended: improving pedagogical training for anatomy instructors, reconsidering course organization and modalities, emphasizing variation, implementing culturally-responsive teaching and improving culture, and including history in the anatomy curriculum.