Equity and inclusion are core values central to both the Vollum Institute and the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP). 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.
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.
Community Transformation efforts will include (but are not limited to):
- Providing anti-racist and racial equity education for the Vollum Institute and Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) leadership. Racial equity core competencies include:
- Gaining a foundational understanding of core racial equity concepts and learning useful frameworks to understand racial equity
- Applying core concepts to the Vollum Institute and NGP to assess and address gaps in racial equity
- Personally identifying, examining, and dismantling beliefs and attitudes that uphold systemic racism and white supremacy in the workplace
- Providing tailored anti-racist and racial equity education for graduate admissions and hiring committees
- Using a racial equity lens to create and facilitate courses for students focused on promoting healthy mentor-mentee relationships, navigating the scientific socio-political landscape, and promoting positive mental health practices
- Using a racial equity lens to create and facilitate courses for students focused on racial equity within research and the academic setting
- Creating and facilitating anti-racism and racial equity educational opportunities tailored to the needs of faculty members
- Coordinating Vollum Institute seminars focused around anti-racism/racial equity as it relates to the scientific enterprise
Innovative Policy efforts will include (but are not limited to):
- Using an anti-racist and racial equity lens to address policies and processes around recruitment, including:
- Developing and implementing an advertising/outreach strategy for prospective PEER faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and other research staff
- Creating recommendations for PEER faculty cluster hires
- Evaluating and addressing equity gaps in the graduate admissions process
- Using an anti-racist and racial equity lens to address policies and processes around retention, including:
- Evaluating and increasing resource allocation for PEER faculty
- Developing a standardized and universal strategy and resources for mediating mentor/trainee conflict resolution
- Developing and implementing a standardized process to ensure postdoctoral scholar pay remain current and congruent with the NIH pay scale and individual years of experience
Our selected objectives may appear to be directly or indirectly related to race. This is intentional, as systemic racism, white supremacy culture, and colonialism are embedded in our systems and culture even when they are not obviously linked to race. For example, pay inequity would negatively impact any person experiencing it. However, for the racially minoritized, pay inequity is compounded with the historical and ongoing effects of systemic racism (i.e. housing discrimination, limited access to healthcare, wealth distribution, lack of accumulation of generational wealth, mass incarceration, etc.). Collectively, direct and indirect inequity has a profound and disproportionate impact on racially minoritized individuals. We hope this combined strategy of addressing policy and culture directly and indirectly related to race enables us to create an environment that supports the entire community while directly addressing issues of racial inequity. We strive to create an environment that, once PEER colleagues are here, is effective in supporting them, their work, and enhances our ability to retain them.
Advancing racial equity benefits our people and our productivity 5 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.
For questions or to learn more about our approach, please feel free to contact:
Marc Freeman, PhD Director, Vollum Institute; firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Monk, PhD Co-director, Vollum Institute; Director, Neuroscience Graduate Program; email@example.com
Letisha Wyatt, PhD Director of Innovative Policy; wyattL@ohsu.edu
Antoinette Foster, PhD Director of Community Transformation; firstname.lastname@example.org