BBSP BET Letter composed in FY 2020-2021
To the Office of Research,
We are BBSP BIPOC Equity Together (BBSP-BET), a coalition of biomedical graduate students calling for a more unified approach from the UNC administration to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) concerns.
Our mission is to create and sustain an inclusive environment that: 1) supports and empowers BIPOC trainees, staff, and faculty 2) establishes transparent policies to hold our community accountable for harassment and discrimination and 3) fosters a culturally intelligent and anti-racist research community.
In keeping with this mission, we are writing this letter to highlight issues that we believe are the most crucial to address in order to move our research community towards a more racially equitable climate. We have included a description of the major obstacles we and other graduate students and postdocs have faced and offer some recommendations based on our own research and conversations. The largest obstacle by far is the decentralized structure of the 14 BBSP PhD programs, which fall outside the jurisdiction of the Office of Graduate Education. Thus, DEI efforts are left to the discretion of individual departments, which leads to disparities in the experiences of BIPOC individuals. We aim to unify DEI efforts across these programs, and we are starting by reaching out to you, the SOM Office of Research, which oversees 7 of these programs, namely Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics & Computation, Cell Biology and Physiology, Genetics & Molecular Biology, Microbiology & Immunology, Pathology & Translational Science, and Pharmacology. In addition, many of the ideas proposed here fall under the primary mission of the Office of Research, including faculty startup packages, faculty retention packages, and departmental training grant applications. Thus, we believe that the SOM Office of Research is in a position of power to execute these changes.
We hope that this document can open a discussion between the SOM Office of Research and the researchers it serves. Our end goal is to pave the way for collaborative DEI efforts that do not re-traumatize or place the work of racial equity solely on the shoulders of underrepresented minority and BIPOC trainees, staff and faculty. Thank you for your attention to this document, and we look forward to continuing the work of anti-racism in partnership with the SOM Office of Research.
Dear Dr. Damania,
Recent events in our country have shed light on the social justice gaps within our own communities and workplaces that must be addressed. While we recognize and appreciate the steps that the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) and departments under the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) within the School of Medicine (SOM) have taken towards achieving racial equity (Appendix Reference S1), we believe there is a need for a more unified approach to addressing the needs of BIPOC trainees. Under the current structure, each department falling within BBSP is leading individualized efforts, writing up its own action plan, and submitting it for approval. However, certain departments are more active in leading efforts than other departments that are lagging behind or have not yet been active in addressing racial equity (Appendix Reference S1). These inconsistencies create an even wider gap in the experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), as well as the Latinx and Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) populations across different departments. Furthermore, piecemeal implementation of racial justice efforts from various departments will lead to a duplication of effort that multiplies the responsibility placed on Diversity Committee members, many of whom are likely BIPOC individuals. We would like to re-emphasize that we value that many departments have initiated town hall meetings and have developed diversity teams to target department-based concerns. Nevertheless, it is imperative that these implementations are properly supervised and unified across all departments, in order to amplify rather than placate the voices of BBSP BIPOC trainees, staff, and faculty in the SOM and translate intention into action.
To ensure that no BIPOC student, postdoc, or staff member is left behind, we are committed to working alongside BBSP-affiliated program leaders to promote the advancement of BIPOC individuals within these programs and to assist in the development of a more unified action plan that applies to all departments under the BBSP umbrella. We, BBSP BIPOC Equity Together (BBSP BET), are a coalition of BBSP graduate students seeking a more unified approach from the UNC SOM’s Office of Research to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) concerns. We hope to accomplish this via a collaborative effort between existing DEI committees in the various departments under the SOM. Through designated faculty and student DEI liaisons, we will establish an open line of communication to highlight strengths and deficits within departmental DEI efforts. Liaisons can exchange, adopt, collaborate and push for implementations of DEI efforts to make sure all departments under the SOM are heading in the right direction and at a similar pace. Our mission is to create and sustain an inclusive environment that: 1) supports and empowers BIPOC trainees, staff, and faculty 2) establishes transparent policies to hold our community accountable for harassment and discrimination and 3) fosters a culturally intelligent and anti-racist research community.
GOAL 1: Assess the equity gap within research departments and programs
We recognize larger efforts within the SOM to address DEI concerns, but argue that these efforts do not directly address the circumstances of faculty, students, staff and postdocs working within the biomedical research departments and programs. Because DEI efforts have been decentralized throughout the biomedical research programs at UNC thus far, we recommend that a climate survey directed towards biomedical researchers in all departments within the SOM be conducted to determine the current racial equity climate and the direction of DEI efforts. We would like to add that it is vital that climate surveys be administered in each department to highlight and address the disparities among departments as it pertains to BIPOC individuals. To receive the utmost benefit out of these climate surveys and to help make informed decisions we encourage the SOM to:
1.1 Begin a concerted effort to assess the climate surrounding racial equity within SOM research departments and programs.
- 1.1.1 We recommend the recruitment of data scientists to ensure that data compiled from research around racial equity is conducted ethically and is designed to gather as much useful and actionable information as possible. There is a clear need for departments to understand more about the racial equity climate and the needs of their members. This need is exemplified by the development of independent surveys to assess departmental racial climate developed by UNC Pharmacology, UNC Biology, UNC Microbiology & Immunology and UNC Biochemistry & Biophysics. While laudable, these independent surveys have little value as actionable tools due to small survey participant pools and the non-expert status of the survey creators.
- 1.1.2 Ensure that the results of all climate surveys are transparent and available to members of departments and programs in the SOM.
- 1.1.3 Complete and analyze climate surveys annually to sustain commitment for change and growth towards DEI efforts within biomedical research programs under the SOM.
1.2 Analyze the diversity of research departments to identify weaknesses and recruitment goals at all professional levels (i.e. trainee, faculty and staff).
1.3 Meet bi-annually with department DEI committees to ensure they are on track and to establish a sense of accountability.
1.4 Recognize and reward departmental efforts to achieve DEI goals.
Goal 2 : Build an inclusive community in BBSP
The UNC SOM DEI webpage states that the SOM is “committed to valuing all people, regardless of background, lifestyle or culture” (UNC School of Medicine: Diversity). While we commend the efforts made within the medical school and hospital to advance DEI, the basic science departments within the SOM at UNC must not be overlooked. Here, we discuss our needs as graduate students and provide recommendations to bolster DEI efforts within BBSP programs, some of which are severely lagging behind other departments in the SOM. We hope our suggestions and examples offer a blueprint the SOM can use to incorporate a fair and unbiased environment for all scientists regardless of race and ethnicity.
1. Create a platform to unify all SOM research department DEI efforts. Following the murder of George Floyd and the increasing recognition of racial inequities in academia, research departments and programs within the SOM reacted to different degrees. Some examples of positive changes are listed in Appendix Reference 1. However, lack of collaboration amongst departments regarding DEI efforts means that individual diversity committees are largely left alone to develop DEI initiatives without being aware of efforts in other departments. We want to ensure that trainees, staff and faculty in different departments can all benefit from similar diversity initiatives and that membership in one department or program does not reduce your chances at a more equitable work environment. To create a more unified platform for DEI efforts in SOM research departments, we recommend the following:
1.1 Encourage all departments to consistently update the Office of Inclusive Excellence’s (OIE) DEI Framework database.
- 1.1.1 We acknowledge that the OIE has already created a platform that will allow the SOM to track departmental progress through DEI Framework – Office of Inclusive Excellence, however, not all departments and programs are yet represented. We recommend that departments be required to display their ongoing DEI initiatives and progress. We believe this can also spark collaborations between active and less active departments.
- 1.1.2 We recommend that the BBSP program reference the Framework Database on its website. Prospective and incoming students use the BBSP website as a way to learn about departments and the community they cultivate. This will not only make accountability more visible to but also encourage other departments within the SOM to join in creating a consistently inclusive environment.
1.2 Form a committee of student DEI liaisons to brainstorm and work with existing faculty diversity liaisons for DEI efforts.
- 1.2.1 We commend the decision by SOM Research Departments to appoint an official faculty member Diversity Liaison for individual departments/programs. In order to bolster the DEI efforts of the faculty Diversity Liaisons, we propose a sub-committee of student Diversity Liaisons that can join cross-departmental Diversity Liaison meetings and push forward DEI initiatives. Alternatively, we propose that the newly-formed School of Medicine Diversity and Inclusion council may perform these duties.
1.3 Incentivize the position of diversity liaison for faculty in order to increase motivation to perform duties.
- 1.3.1 To our knowledge, departmental Diversity Liaisons are selected by the Departmental Chair. We suggest that the selection process of Diversity Liaison be made more transparent to ensure that the selected Liaison will be motivated to further DEI efforts within the department.
- 126.96.36.199 Recommendation 1: Redefine role as an elected position chosen by department members every two years to ensure that an ally and trusted departmental member is selected to serve in this crucial role. One could envision a system in which candidates for the position anonymously submit their platforms for DEI Liaison to be voted on by the department, but this system could be decided by the department itself.
- 188.8.131.52 Recommendation 2: We acknowledge the immense workload and responsibilities of all research-intensive faculty members within the SOM and suggest that the Diversity Liaison role is duly compensated and understood to be an esteemed position within the department.
1.4 Ensure departments dedicate an appropriate amount of time to discussion of DEI efforts within faculty meetings.
- 1.4.1 In order to create sustainable change and support DEI efforts, we recommend that departments set aside a dedicated amount of time to discussion of DEI efforts within faculty meetings.
- 1.4.2 Furthermore, we recommend that minutes dedicated to DEI efforts within faculty meetings should be made available to all students, staff, and faculty within the department to promote forward progress.
2. Develop and implement programming to address racism within academia. Systemic racism is pervasive and UNC is not exempt from this issue. However, there are ways to diminish biases within our university. Implementing anti racism training, providing educational opportunities to learn about racism in academia, and incorporating discussions about race into different academic settings will provide a well-rounded environment to tackle the issue at hand. We recommend departments be required to implement mandatory implicit bias training to all faculty, staff, and students. It is clear from the popularity of programs such as the free monthly Unconscious Bias workshop offered by the UNC SOM Office of Inclusive Excellence that there is an interest and motivation to participate in implicit bias programming.
2.1 Implement mandatory implicit bias training to all faculty, staff, and students.
- 2.1.1 DEI Trainings/DEI Certificate Program | Office of Inclusive Excellence : These workshops address how we observe the world and interact with others outside our awareness; ‘Unconscious Bias’, Implicit Bias 101’, ‘Respect All’, ‘Health Care Safe Zone Training’.
- 184.108.40.206 Example of implementation: Department of Microbiology and Immunology requested that “all department trainees, staff and faculty complete this training by the end of 2020.”
2.2 Create programming to address and highlight the importance of intersectionality in the scientific community.
- 2.2.1 Intersectionality is a framework for understanding how a person’s individual identities and experiences such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, indigeneity, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, spirituality, and education may converge and interact, leading to varying degrees of discrimination or privilege. While most approaches on campus focus on singular concepts (e.g., race or sexual orientation) it is important to also acknowledge that identities are multidimensional and can uniquely intersect to shape life experiences and educational outcomes. By understanding the impact of intersectionality, SOM can better serve trainees by recognizing and respecting all aspects of individuals, thus promoting an enriching and well-rounded educational experience.
- 220.127.116.11 Example: Understanding Intersectionality: bringing visibility to the experiences and perspectives of Women of Color : This webinar is collaboration between the Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS), the Group on Diversity and Inclusion (GDI), and other AAMC affinity groups that highlights the use of intersectional lenses when addressing diversity, equity and inclusion concerns.
2.3 Incorporate anti-racism workshops into departmental retreat programming or seminar series (See section 3.3.5)
2.4 Incorporate anti-racism education into our academic classes/curricula (e.g. teaching about eugenics in genetics classes, highlighting the contributions and labs of underrepresented, Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and BIPOC researchers)
3. Promote the development of a culturally intelligent scientific community. In addition to greatly enhancing the learning experiences and productivity of trainees, effective mentoring also fosters growth and professional development that promote success in graduate school and beyond. While most faculty have a broad understanding of the importance of mentoring in academia, many remain unaware of the critical need for cultural awareness and fall short in cultivating an inclusive learning environment for underrepresented groups. Culturally aware mentoring allows faculty to identify and address the sources and impact of personal biases that may operate in their research spaces. This increase in awareness positively influences mentor-mentee relationships and fosters a sense of belonging, particularly for trainees belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups, improving their graduate school experiences and success thereafter. To promote the development of a culturally intelligent scientific community, we recommend the following:
3.1 Require all faculty to attend Faculty Mentoring Workshops curated by the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) and/or the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) at UNC:
- 3.1.1 OGE: Faculty Mentoring Workshop for Biomedical Researchers : Series of workshops for Biomedical Researchers discussing faculty mentoring in training graduate students, undergraduates, post-docs, or junior faculty in the life sciences (see Appendix S2 for more information).
- 3.1.2 CFE: Faculty Mentoring Training : Series of workshops offered by CFE that discusses 6 core mentoring competencies: Maintaining Effective Communication, Aligning Expectations, Addressing Equity and Inclusion, Fostering Independence, Promoting Professional Development, and Articulating Your Mentoring Philosophy and Plan. This is open to all UNC faculty.
- 3.1.3 OGE: Culturally Aware Mentoring : Series of workshops for BBSP-affiliated faculty focused specifically on ethnicity and cultural identity and examines how these factor into the mentoring relationship.
3.2 Require all graduate and postdoctoral trainees who are mentoring junior students to attend the Effective Mentoring Workshop hosted by UNC’s Graduate School Professional Development Program
3.2.1 Effective Mentoring: Series of workshops for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees who are interested in or currently mentoring and training junior graduate students and undergraduates. These workshops provide trainees with skills and competencies for effective mentoring through case-scenarios and evidence-based practices.
3.3 Encourage all teaching faculty to include diversity statements within their syllabi
- 3.3.1 This sets the tone for your classroom environment and assures students that you value and respect differences in intellectual exchange, and are aware of current campus conversations surrounding diversity.
- 18.104.22.168 Example: UNC-CH Biology 101, Dr. Kelly Hogan (pp. 1 and 7)
3.4 Encourage all faculty to feature their training credentials and diversity statement on lab websites.
- 3.4.1 Displaying training badges/credentials offer a visual representation of the time and effort faculty have dedicated to improving their mentoring. This documentation is what students look for as a sign of a safe and inclusive space for them.
- 22.214.171.124 Example: UNC-CH Biology 101, Dr. Kelly Hogan (p. 1)
- 126.96.36.199 A statement from a previous UNC undergraduate research student stated “Seeing those little visible placards of support at my undergrad institute genuinely made me feel more included in the community and less afraid to be myself…”.
3.5 Promote accountability and affirm support for more culturally aware mentoring.
- 3.5.1 Departments should additionally display faculty training on the department websites, as the Genetics and Molecular Biology Department has implemented. We also recommend that the BBSP Umbrella program update its database faculty biographies to include DEI credentials for first-year rotation students to identify suitable mentors.
- 188.8.131.52 Example: UNC-CH GMB Faculty
- 3.5.2 All faculty mentoring graduate students should also have a mentorship agreement composed of expectations.
- 184.108.40.206 Advising Agreement Between Graduate Students and Thesis Advisor
- 220.127.116.11.1 To further promote an inclusive lab environment, faculty advisors should include a diversity statement to address their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in their lab spaces.
- 18.104.22.168 Advising Agreement Between Graduate Students and Thesis Advisor
4. Develop an accountability framework In order to enhance the experiences of BIPOC trainees, faculty and staff, it is imperative that an accountability framework be developed. This document will serve to articulate general DEI goals and establish clear and measurable standards and expectations to which all departments must adhere. The ability to measure and evaluate the progress and achievements of each department within BBSP is crucial and ensures that BIPOC students, regardless of their program affiliation, are treated fairly and as valued members of the scientific community.
4.1 Develop core values with an accountability framework for all, including a safe space for anonymous reporting.
- 4.1.1 Example: Dissemination of an anonymous racial equity climate survey for reporting racism and microaggressions to be taken annually by faculty, postdocs, and graduate students within all departments in the SOM.
4.2 Make the process of reporting incidents to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC) more transparent and accessible by including contact information on department websites.
- 4.2.1 Department of Biology provides information and resources concerning reporting of misconduct and harassment on its website. The resources apply to both faculty and trainees.
4.3 Ensure that the department’s Diversity Liaison has an open line of communication with EOC.
4.4 Encourage all departments to implement and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, sexual harassment and discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
- 4.4.1 We define enforcement as an accountability measure that is standardized amongst all departments falling within BBSP for any of the above actions.
- 4.4.2 Examples: a faculty member will be subject to review and reconsidered for tenure eligibility, reporting someone to Human Resources for any incidence of discrimination or harassment brought to a PI or senior lab member’s attention; Suspension.
4.5 Host an annual seminar in each department that reinforces its core values in alignment with the unconscious bias training and inclusion education.
GOAL 3: Recruit and retain BIPOC in academia
1. Amplify BIPOC voices in STEM. To promote BIPOC students, faculty, and staff in academia, we must amplify BIPOC voices by inviting, citing, and funding BIPOC researchers. Communication of research at seminars and conferences is an integral part of training, recruitment and promotion in academia. Invited departmental speakers are considered experts in their field and are role models for young scientists. For trainees in the audience, having a visual representation of speakers of their own racial and gender identity is important for their sense of inclusion in the academic community, particularly if they belong to an underrepresented group. In support of this, studies of the effect of female role models on undergraduate women in STEM show that female role models can improve the trainee’s sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and performance (1, 2). However, while BIPOC doctoral trainees earned 11% of doctoral degrees in 2017, the diversity of invited departmental speakers often does not reflect these numbers (3, 4). On the other hand, speakers also benefit from talk invitations by having a chance to spread their ideas, foster collaborations, and build their CVs. Invited talks are important milestones and opportunities for networking and career development, and if we hope to achieve equity in academia, departmental and conference speakers cannot continue to be overrepresented by Caucasian professors. To amplify BIPOC voices in STEM, we recommend the following:
1.1 Increase the number of BIPOC speakers invited to UNC departmental seminars
- 1.1.1 Every department should invite at least one established BIPOC faculty or senior BIPOC postdoctoral fellow per semester to give a scientific talk in their annual faculty seminar series.
- 1.1.2 We recommend inviting faculty from local HBCUs, such as North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and North Carolina A&T State University, which may also promote new local collaborations.
- 1.1.3 Another option is utilizing one of the many searchable databases to identify BIPOC speakers in the appropriate field.
- 1.1.4 Consider inviting speakers outside of traditional academic positions. One example of this is the Cell Biology and Physiology Department’s Science Careers Beyond Academia (SCBA) series.
- 1.1.5 Expand the recommendation pool beyond the speaker nomination committees by creating a rolling speaker suggestion form for any students or postdocs in the department to suggest invitations or invite seminar speakers directly.
1.2 Promote diversity in scientific conferences and the broader scientific community
- 1.2.1 Established (tenured) non-BIPOC investigators could consider declining invitations from conferences that do not showcase diverse speakers. Alternatively, the investigator could suggest that their BIPOC trainees present in their place. The department should encourage the practice of handing the platform to BIPOC trainees whenever possible. For example, this could exist in the form of monetary support/travel funds for BIPOC trainees presenting research (see section 3.3.1).
- 1.2.2 Each investigator should evaluate their own citations and ensure that they are aware of BIPOC authors in their field and are citing them appropriately in both original research manuscripts and coursework syllabi.
1.3 Support UNC BIPOC students presenting their research
- 1.3.1 Establish departmental grants (e.g. one $500 award given per year) to a BIPOC student within the department to attend a conference. In the spirit of amplifying BIPOC voices, these awards could be named in honor of former BIPOC faculty or trainees of note.
- 1.3.2 Diversity liaisons should keep a list of funding opportunities for travel awards and fellowships for BIPOC trainees that is transparent and easily accessible on the department website and educate graduate students/postdoctoral fellows about these opportunities at the yearly town halls. Awards to all students in the department should be recognized and celebrated on departmental websites and social media.
- 1.3.3. Establish a departmental fund to help students temporarily cover the cost of conference and travel registration before being reimbursed by grants.
2. Increase and retain diverse students, faculty and staff In addition to promoting BIPOC voices and representation through the speakers we support, it is critical to increase and retain BIPOC students, faculty, and staff at UNC. Time and again, it has been shown that diversity fosters creativity, improves problem solving, and increases the impact of research (5-7). If we hope to accomplish our SOM mission to “develop and support a rich array of outstanding health sciences research programs”, we need to diversify the teams we recruit. Currently, BIPOC individuals are nationally underrepresented at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels (3, 8). UNC is no exception to this national trend, particularly at the faculty level. According to the latest UNC SOM Faculty Diversity Report, in 2017, BIPOC faculty comprised less than 9.3% of UNC faculty compared to 23.8% of the population of North Carolina. Because of systemic racism, BIPOC individuals encounter a unique set of challenges that make pursuing a career in academia more difficult – including discrimination, implicit bias, lower grant funding rates, invisible labor, and a scarcity of BIPOC mentors (9-12). To increase BIPOC biomedical researchers at all stages, we recommend the following interventions, which will address not only recruitment but also support of BIPOC researchers:
2.1. Increase exposure of high school and middle school BIPOC students to careers in science by promoting outreach programs like DNA Day, Shadow a Scientist, Research Triangle Park STEM Expo, WinSPIRE and Black Girls Code and encourage the establishment of such outreach programs specifically designed for BIPOC students.
- 2.1.1 Potential forms of concrete encouragement could include financial support in the form of donations or the creation of awards and grant funding for such programs from the SOM.
- 2.1.2 Promote these outreach programs by including articles in Vital Signs dedicated to highlighting these efforts.
- 2.1.3 Show that the department values outreach efforts by incorporating outreach into the tenure promotion process (see section 2.5.4).
2.2. Increase undergraduate student access to the knowledge and tools for graduate education by supporting and donating to programs that invite students from Historically Black College Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
- 2.2.1. Such programs include:
- 22.214.171.124 The Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Partners Research Education Program invites participation of undergraduate students from UNC and North Carolina Central University (NCCU). The Biology of Cancer Seminar Series is a feature of this program that focuses on the role of race, class, and socioeconomic status in cancer and invites scientists from UNC, NCCU, and NC A&T to present and attend.
- 126.96.36.199 The Building Relationships to Diversify Graduate Education (BRDGE) Alliance is a STEM mentoring program for undergraduate students at HBCUs that was founded by Taylor Dismuke, a UNC graduate student.
- 188.8.131.52 Post Baccalaureate and Undergraduate Research Programs provide opportunities for undergraduates to gain exposure to scientific research and to expand their professional networks. Support should be prioritized for programs that serve students from underrepresented groups or who have a commitment to expanding diversity in biomedical sciences (PREP, SOLAR, SMART).
2.3. Provide support for BIPOC graduate students.
- 2.3.1 Discrimination can lead to burnout and poor mental and physical health (9, 13). In order to mitigate this, we recommended:
- 184.108.40.206 Partner with staff in the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) and the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) to identify unmet needs required to support BIPOC biomedical research students. These needs may include hiring additional counselors to help with trauma and discrimination-related experiences.
- 220.127.116.11 Consider establishing a departmental mutual aid fund to help students, staff, postdocs or faculty members in crisis, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Current financial aid resources such as UNC’s COVID-19 Financial Assistance Program are very restrictive and prohibitively complicated. Less restrictive internal departmental funds can help lessen financial burdens on BIPOC students and increase community solidarity.
2.4 Require transparency and cultural awareness in graduate student admissions and postdoctoral hiring practices.
- 2.4.1 Reevaluate the metrics being used to assess graduate student applicants. We acknowledge that BBSP admissions has phased out the use of GRE test scores in the admissions process due in large part to research efforts undertaken by members of the Office of Graduate Education (14). However, beyond GRE scores, this study “found no correlations of test scores, grades, amount of previous research experience, or faculty interview ratings with high or low productivity among those applicants who were admitted and chose to matriculate at UNC.”
- 2.4.2 Metrics used to evaluate graduate student applicants should be made publicly available to make the application process more accessible.
- 2.4.3 Faculty that serve on admissions committees should undergo cultural awareness training and unconscious bias training (referenced in section 2). In addition, we strongly encourage the development of an unconscious bias training course that is tailored to admissions.
- 2.4.4 Job positions should be posted publicly to avoid excluding applicants not in the employer’s network, which would inevitably introduce bias. While this practice may seem restrictive, it will actually benefit labs by exposing them to potential candidates that they may have never considered.
- 2.4.5 Application forms should be structured with clear guidelines (see example from the Richards Lab at McGill University here).
- 2.4.6 Both processes (graduate and postdoc interviews) should involve a formal scoring system for accountability.
2.5. To promote BIPOC faculty, bolster the hiring and retention practices.
- 2.5.1 Allocate at least one faculty interview spot per department to a BIPOC candidate.
- 2.5.2 Designate at least one faculty member of the hiring committee to advocate for the interests and applications of underrepresented candidates.
- 2.5.3 Consider creative hiring approaches to attract BIPOC candidates. Cluster hiring provides community support for BIPOC faculty, who may be entering into primarily white departments, and can be subject to tokenism and higher pressure and scrutiny (15, 16). Emphasize research areas in faculty searches that are of interest to BIPOC researchers but have been traditionally underfunded by NIH (health disparities, lifestyle, reproductive biology, etc.) (11).
- 2.5.4 Provide additional training, resources, and mentoring opportunities to BIPOC faculty. Training could involve grant writing, leadership, and professional development workshops. Create funding opportunities for BIPOC faculty through SOM and departments.
- 2.5.5 Prioritize outreach and mentorship in the tenure promotion process so that BIPOC faculty feel their work is valued as more than just service. These contributions should be on par with traditional requirements, such as research contributions, and will benefit the greater research community. We acknowledge that the SOM has taken the important first step to change their tenure promotion guidelines in 2020 to include DEI efforts, but it will be important to weigh these contributions equally to research activities. We hope that these steps in combination with better departmental tracking of DEI service will normalize these activities.
3. Build solidarity with BIPOC students, faculty and staff. Just as we need to support BIPOC students, staff, and faculty within our research programs and departments, it is equally important to build solidarity with BIPOC students, faculty, and staff by joining in anti-racist actions and building community. In the days and weeks following the murder of George Floyd, reactions from the departments within the SOM were varied. Some departments issued statements of solidarity with BIPOC members, while others did not or took too long to do so. Likewise, some departments scheduled town halls, others only did so after insistence by students, and still others have yet to arrange a town hall. The SOM must be unified and proactive rather than reactionary in the wake of incidents of racial violence and the COVID-19 pandemic. The onus should not be on BIPOC trainees and staff to initiate these conversations.
3.1. Statements in solidarity with BIPOC students, faculty, and staff. It is not enough to feel overwhelmed and horrified by the violence against BIPOC individuals in our communities and the discrimination and microaggressions targeted toward BIPOC researchers.
- 3.1.1 We call on all SOM departments to make a strong statement of zero tolerance for racism – including discrimination and microaggressions. While we acknowledge that many departments, such as Biochemistry & Biophysics and Cell Biology and Physiology, have devoted pages of their departmental websites to diversity, equity and inclusion resources and have made strong statements indicating their commitment to diversity, these statements do not include a statement of zero tolerance.
- 3.1.2 We ask that research departments and advisors move away from a “business-as-usual” model in the wake of tragedies in BIPOC communities. Recent tragedies include the shooting of eight in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women, that took place on March 16, 2021, and the killing of Daunte Wright on April 11th, 2021. BIPOC students need time to process and heal from tragedies within their communities and must not be penalized for taking the time and space to do so. Research Advisors can create that space by alleviating the pressure on students to meet deadlines, cancelling or postponing classes, temporarily reducing lab expectations, forgiving absences for all students during these times and encouraging them to take the time they need to nurture their mental health. This approach is vital so as not to single out any students in particular.
- 3.1.3 We call on all SOM departments to support BIPOC union efforts and safety demands during COVID-19 and other social or natural crises.
- 3.1.4 We call on the SOM and every department within its umbrella to encourage the rerouting of funds from the UNC Police to accessible and affordable mental health services and programming designated to serve biomedical research departments that enhances training of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff.
3.2. Support existing programs to uplift BIPOC students, faculty, and staff.
- 3.2.1 Encourage participation and engagement with the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) group and the Society for Black Biomedical Scientists (SBBS).
3.3. Lessen the burden of invisible labor on BIPOC students, faculty, and staff.
- 3.3.1 We should encourage our research community members to share the responsibility of DEI service and outreach through a combination of accountability and rewards.
- 18.104.22.168 Accountability may include better tracking and public reporting of student and faculty DEI service hours. Diversity liaisons should evaluate participation in DEI service activities and address any imbalances in efforts by race and gender.
- 22.214.171.124 Rewards may include the establishment of diversity and outreach awards and funding opportunities through the SOM. One example is the UNC Pharmacology Department’s outreach awards.
- 3.3.2 Organizers of DEI workshops or events who go above and beyond the typical number of service hours should be compensated for their time, and any panelists should also be compensated for the emotional burden of sharing their personal experiences for the benefit of others’ education.
- 3.3.3 One way to compensate faculty for their invisible labor is to include and properly weigh outreach efforts in the tenure promotion process so that this work is considered a valuable contribution to their professional achievements instead of a distraction from research activities.
Finally, we urge you to not view this document in a bureaucratic way, but as a testament to the dedication of BIPOC STEM graduate students to make UNC a more equitable place to be a student, a mentor, and a coworker. This document sheds light on the invisible labor and hardship that underrepresented minority and BIPOC trainees, staff, and faculty carry on their shoulders. It encapsulates the untold stories and traumatic experiences of BIPOC individuals. We are not just giving you statistics, for they are merely placeholders: a sanitized portrayal of the experiences they carry. For this reason, we ask you to reflect as you read this proposal and carry forward the principles of anti-racism in our research community. While we understand that departmental efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion are already in action, what we propose is intended to serve as a tool for the SOM to create a unified effort between existing DEI committees in departments under the SOM. We believe this is absolutely vital for the research community to move forward.
Appendix Reference S1: Notable DEI efforts within biomedical research departments
*This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a list of DEI efforts that we have become aware of and commend. Not all efforts listed have been completed, but have been set as an intention.*
Departmental Town Hall meetings
Biology, Pharmacology, Cell Biology & Physiology, Biochemistry & Biophysics (2/12), Pharmacology, Microbiology & Immunology, Genetics (including GMB and BCB students)
Establishment of a scholarship to benefit BIPOC trainees
DEI efforts cited on departmental website:
Biochemistry & Biophysics, Cell Biology & Physiology, Genetics, Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Microbiology & Immunology (in the works)
Efforts to hire diverse faculty:
Genetics, Cell Biology & Physiology, Neuroscience, Biochemistry & Biophysics, Microbiology & Immunology (in progress, but not fully delineated)
Outreach efforts to increase recruitment from HBCUs into UNC biomedical graduate programs:
Microbiology & Immunology, Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Toxicology Curriculum’s 21st Century Environmental Health Scholars Program
Faculty reviews include DEI efforts:
Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Biophysics
Collection of survey data/climate surveys regarding DEI issues:
Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Biophysics
Biochemistry & Biophysics, Pharmacology, Biology
Development of Community Standards Guidelines for BBSP students and faculty:
Drafted by BBSP, distributed by BBSP, Cell Biology & Physiology, Pharmacology, CiTEM
Mandatory unconscious bias training:
Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Biophysics, Cell Biology & Physiology
Diversification of speaker pool for departmental seminars:
Pharmacology, Genetics, Microbiology & Immunology, Cell Biology & Physiology, Neuroscience
Incorporation of Diversity Equity and Inclusion component in tenure promotion process:
Appendix Reference S2: Resources for a Racially Equitable Community
OGE Faculty Mentoring Workshop: https://ogefacultymentoring.web.unc.edu/
- This workshop is based on Research Mentor Training Curriculum from the University of Wisconsin- Madison and includes topics such as Effective Communication, Aligning Expectations, Assessing Understanding, Fostering Independence, Self-Efficacy, Professional Development, Addressing Equity and Inclusion, and Articulating Your Mentoring Philosophy.
- The success of this program is documented in the following article which states that this curriculum improves research mentoring skills in both junior and senior research faculty: Academic Medicine: May 2014 – Volume 89 – Issue 5 – p 774-782 DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000218.
CFE: Faculty Mentoring Training
- CFE offers TEAM ADVANCE Faculty Mentor Training that is open to all faculty seeking to enhance their mentoring skills. The curriculum is adapted from the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) and discusses 6 core mentoring competencies: Maintaining Effective Communication, Aligning Expectations, Addressing Equity and Inclusion, Fostering Independence, Promoting Professional Development, and Articulating Your Mentoring Philosophy and Plan (https://cimerproject.org/).
Display of faculty training on Department websites
- Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology https://gmb.unc.edu/gmb-faculty/
Example of displaying training badges/credentials: https://twitter.com/mei_newt/status/1280955697291812865?s=20
Examples of Diversity and Inclusion Statements: Diversity & Inclusion Syllabus Statements | Sheridan Center)
Example of diversity statement: http://jilldowenlab.web.unc.edu/diversity-inclusion/
Poster listing resources for reporting incidents: https://eoc.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/201/2015/05/Resource_Poster.pdf
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