Today we celebrate the launch of another Campaign, but we want to begin by truly celebrating the work that went into it, and the power that we all hold—even as individuals—to make science an inclusive, welcoming space.
Over the last three years, Keke Fairfax—Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Department of Pathology the University of Utah—developed a brand new course. “Decades of attempts to increase the STEM pipeline for people from marginalized backgrounds have failed to move the needle at the tenured and leadership levels, due in part to talented scientists being forced out by a toxic culture where they have no sense of belonging. I designed this course to create explicitly anti-racist training and research environments where both faculty and trainees dedicate themselves to shifting culture in both small and large ways” she says.
Through her work, Keke gives us all an incredible gift: the ability to create a culture of belonging in science.
As she mentioned, scientific institutions often exert an immense mental and physical toll on anyone who does not fit within white, Euro-centric norms. This happens not only through unacceptable work cultures, microaggressions, and blatant acts of racism; but in our science, too. Like how we make huge assumptions about the human genome based on the study of largely white, European DNA. Or how most of us can only point to the USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee as the source of medical mistrust among Black and African Americans. Or how studies of Indigenous and Native Americans so rarely begin with input and co-design from those groups.
That’s because science and scientists frequently fail to understand or embrace the knowledge, values, or culture of individuals—especially Black and African American, Hispanic and Latine, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander scientists. And our classifications of merit are built on centuries-old practices.
So, we turn to the course: Nurturing Equity in STem (NEST)—which will be given to the SolvingFor community this summer as a Campaign. The goal is to help participants understand the origins of and address active toxicity, embrace the value that different races and ethnicities bring to an organization, and modify the one-sided and archaic metrics of success that we currently use.
Of the Utah students who have taken the course thus far, they tell Keke it’s helping, “The feedback I get, particularly from trainees, is that many feel this is the first training they have had that addresses the problem.”
Most DEI training programs largely focus on a laundry list of good and bad behaviors, but NEST takes a different tack: it assumes that most everyone in academia has good intentions and lacks an appropriate education—but it couples this learning with an environment that fosters deep emotional engagement. The course is 95% discussion. A history lesson and self-reflective workshop all rolled into one, NEST culminates in each participant creating a personalized plan for how to be anti-racist in both their actions and their science.
Along the way, participants become comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that they can continue to grow and change throughout their career—to help others feel like they can belong. This, in turn, can start to change the values of individuals, organizations, and scientific culture.
As a part of the Campaign, SolvingFor is underwriting extensive study and evaluation to both measure and share the effectiveness of NEST. We are also establishing future host partners to take this course back to their institutions in a train-the-trainers model. NEST is currently geared toward biomedicine, but it can be tailored to fit any discipline in science.
“We are deeply inspired by NEST and its potential to impact academic institutions far and wide. Our vision is to witness the widespread adoption of this invaluable course, creating a ripple effect of positive change in our research environments. By embracing NEST, we are taking a significant step in the right direction, addressing the root causes and fostering equity in science, and we can pave the way for a future where inclusivity and belonging are the norm,” adds Vincent Chan, SolvingFor co-founder and Board Member.
SolvingFor members who join this summer have the opportunity to participate in NEST, which is a 3-week course beginning August 22.