Our Purpose

Illustration showing people of different ethnicities in profile

Equity and inclusion are core values central to the REI Center. These values are also central to the Vollum Institute and the Neuroscience Graduate Program, which the REI Center works in conjunction with. From innovative scientific discovery to training the next generation of critical thinkers, we aim to create an environment where every individual has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

As important as these core values are to creating a productive and supportive environment where everyone thrives, these values are oftentimes hopeful goals rather than the lived realities of many people across the scientific enterprise. Many groups remain underrepresented and excluded, explicitly or implicitly, from scientific research and education. This includes women, individuals with physical or mental disabilities, those with social and economic disadvantages, and PEERs (Persons Excluded due to Ethnicity or Race)1.

In order to understand this underrepresentation and exclusion, we must examine the systems that created and currently support group inequities. These are commonly referred to as systems of oppression, where individual values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, coupled with long-standing institutional policies and procedures create an overall environment or culture that regularly and severely disadvantages some groups while benefiting others2. These include but are not limited to systemic racism, patriarchy, ableism, classism, antisemitism, heteronormativity, and the historical and current practice of colonialism. While many individuals find themselves at the nexus of several of these issues, each system must be considered individually in order to fully understand and dismantle it. Working closely with the Vollum Racial Equity and Inclusion Center (REI Center) we are focusing initially on race, which allows our strategy to be intentional and narrow enough to find practical solutions. In addition, the approaches we use to address systemic racism will have broad impacts on other systems of oppression, as these invariably intersect with race. The figure below illustrates how racism can express itself at many levels and informs our anti-racism strategy.

An infographic describing how a system of racism shows up in four main ways: personal, interpersonal/collective, institutional and structural. The personal system includes ones individual values and beliefs. The interpersonal/collective system includes the expression of racism between individuals. The institutional system includes discriminatory treatment and policies within an organization. The structural system includes the cumulative and ongoing effects of public policy and institutional norms.
A system of racism can be who we are within ourselves and with each other and how we integrate who we are into what we do. This infographic examines the personal, interpersonal/collective, institutional and structural systems.

In alignment with OHSU’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution, the Vollum Institute, the NGP, and REI Center aim to specifically determine how systemic racism and other types of oppression are embedded with our scientific environment. Systemic racism can be embedded within our environment through inequitable policies and procedures. It can also manifest through an oftentimes unconscious but widespread ideology that white people and white people’s values, beliefs, norms, standards are superior to those of People of Color, otherwise known as white supremacy culture3. While this term is often associated with violence perpetrated by the KKK and other white supremacist groups, it also describes a political ideology and systemic oppression that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial white domination4. Therefore, we use this understanding to focus specifically on inequitable policies, procedure, and culture to ensure our approach is comprehensive. 

While important, increasing diversity is not and has never been enough-we must intentionally evaluate and align ourselves, our culture, our policies, and our practices with anti-racism principles. In order to achieve an anti-racist research environment, our approach must focus on the ways racism shows up personally, interpersonally, institutionally, and structurally. 

Using a two-pronged approach, the REI Center has two positions focused specifically on:

The Director of Community Transformation focuses on the personal and interpersonal manifestations of systemic racism (see system of racism figure) and uses a racial equity lens to assess the current institutional culture, determine cultural values and processes incongruent with racial equity, and develop strategic pathways to align cultural norms and practices with a racially inclusive environment for students, staff, and faculty.

The Director of Innovative Policy focuses on the institutional and structural manifestations of systemic racism (see system of racism figure) and uses a racial equity lens to comprehensively review and reform current policies affecting the recruitment and retention of Vollum Institute faculty, students, postdoctoral scholars, and other research staff.

Advancing racial equity benefits our people and our productivity5 and it is our entire community’s responsibility to advance racial equity. Throughout the year, we will collect data, solicit feedback from our community, and regularly communicate our progress. Our overall aim is to empower our leadership and all of our community members to become active agents of change. 

We see these objectives as only the beginning steps of our anti-racism work. Anti-racism and other equity work involves continual assessment, reevaluation, an ongoing openness to change and continual improvement. We are committed to the continual process of transforming our environment to truly reflect our values and creating a thriving, inclusive, and anti-racist organization.

Reference List:

  1. Data from the National Institutes of Health describing women, racial minorities, and persona with disabilities as underrepresented in Science and Engineering: Populations Underrepresented in the Extramural Scientific Workforce
  2. A definition of systems of oppression: Social Identities and Systems of Oppression
  3. A definition and explanation of white supremacy culture: What Is White Supremacy Culture?
  4. An explanation of white supremacy culture through a systems lens: White Supremacy Culture Resources
  5. Data that supports the finding that diversity increases productivity: Diversity wins: How inclusion matters