Leveraging the RD Toolbox to Support Inclusive Excellence

Contributed by Debra Karhson, Ph.D., Crystal M. Botham, Ph.D., Gretchen L. Kiser, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Seckel, M.A.

The 10 year anniversary of the report by Ginther et al. (2011) has re-ignited an important conversation on federal grant funding disparities and structural oppression within biomedical research. Recent updates to the report show only a marginal increase in funding rates for Black researchers (Erosheva et al., 2020). Importantly, response articles by Taffe and Gilpin (2021) and Stevens et al. (2021) highlight the calls to action by stakeholders to rectify this unjust federal funding infrastructure. While these articles single out federal funding institutions like the NIH, they also highlight the critical role for research development (RD) professionals in transforming the research workforce to be more just and equitable. Moreover, in light of the forthcoming funding initiatives by federal funding institutions to increase diversity in research (i.e., NIH UNITE initiatives), RD professionals have an instrumental role in ensuring these funds have the greatest impact on the communities that need them most.

To assist other RD professionals ideate actions at their own institutions and in line with the October 12th NORDP blog post on Conversation Roadblocks, we spent a session during the 2020 NORDP Pacific Regional Meeting keeping ourselves accountable to this work. In this dedicated session, we shared the individual practices and policies NORDP members have taken to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at their institutions.

Below we categorized these crowd-sourced actions into one of the three following categories (Figure 1): allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators. These terms come from social justice epistemology and create a framework for examining where greater risk can be taken by those committed to increasing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Briefly, allies and allied actions are those which show an individual’s general support of social justice movements and initiatives. Actions of an accomplice are pro-active, de-center dominant narratives, and leverage our privileges in service of justice. Finally, co-conspiratorial actions are those that involve the greatest risks and are the most active of the three in disrupting systems of oppression.

Ally

Accomplice

  • Lead a Conversation Roadblocks or similar discussion
  • Join and be an active member of the NORDP Committee on Inclusive Excellence
  • Ask questions when something is inequitable. “If you see something, say something!” Advocacy is like a muscle that gets strengthened with each use
  • Serve on advisory committees, groups and task forces. Leverage your privilege as an RD professional to advocate for others in these spaces
  • Enhance equity, validity, and diversity in university hiring, using processes such as Oregon State University’s Search Advocate Program or Ohio State University’s strategic planning for a fair and equitable future
  • Attend training for RD professionals like the UCSB-based Center for Research, Excellence, Diversity in Team Science (CREDITS) to understand why and how to encourage greater team diversity
  • Bring in expert facilitators to give workshops on different DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging) topics such as how to build inclusive research teams, best practices for community engagement, etc.

Co-Conspirator

  • Partner with campus offices and organizations that are involved in DEIB activities. For example, UCSF hosts a matchmaking event between interested research faculty and URM students/trainees/staff from other local universities and community colleges
  • Engage affinity groups such as Black and or/ LatinX postdoc and faculty associations to co-create resources based on their needs
  • Volunteer your grant writing expertise for a community non-profit serving BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities
  • Evaluate language and review criteria for internal grants to adopt an anti-racism praxis in peer review. University of Michigan launched a new resource for mitigating bias and improving practices in peer review, nominations processes, etc.
  • Convene and participate in anti-racism advocacy efforts on our campuses and beyond, applying RD skills like project management, writing, etc.
  • Develop guidebooks, workshops, and bootcamps for diversity-specific grant programs, such as Stanford’s Diversity Supplement website or Jump Start Awards
  • Develop and provide small seed funding opportunities to support research on structural racism or that promote diversity. Chapman University provides seed funding for research and creative activities that serve the needs of diverse communities. UCSF has introduced an intramural seed grant focused on anti-Black racism in health research.

We wish to thank all the participants in our 2020 Pacific Regional presentation, Leveraging the RD Toolbox to Support Institutional Diversity Efforts, for sharing the important work they are doing. The above list of actions is by no means exhaustive, instead we hope it sparks new ideas and implementation efforts. During the 13th Annual NORDP conference, we will continue this dialog and actively explore ways that we as RD professionals can support DEIB during the session titled Leveraging and Building the RD Toolbox to Support Institutional DEIB Goals. Please join us on May 4, 2021 at 12:15 pm. NORDP will also host another set of Conversation Roadblock discussions around the virtual conference as well, so get ready for this valuable conference add-on and join in on uncomfortable conversations! 

Figure 1. The Pyramid of accountability for Research Development Professionals (graphic inspired by @blessthemessy)

Working to Overcome Conversation Roadblocks on Our Journey to Justice

Contributed by Committee on Inclusive Excellence (CIE) members Jane Garrity, Etta Ward and Gretchen Kiser

It seems like every week in 2020 brings a new avalanche of news stories on institutional racism, social injustice, and voices raised in protest. NORDP members, like so many others, are looking for ways to be leaders, allies, and agents of change for our communities and campuses. We acknowledge the tremendous exhaustion and pain of our BIPOC members from the many years of trauma and oppression and join in solidarity to share the burden of change agency. There is so much we could and should be doing toward racial and social justice. Despite the daunting task ahead of us all, we need to initiate the first and fundamental step toward effecting enduring meaningful change – personal, sometimes difficult conversations with our friends, colleagues, and families. Starting and maintaining conversations leads to other critical actions that will be needed to dismantle the systems, processes and procedures that make it possible for inequities and discriminatory practices to persist. Unfortunately, many ‘would-be’ allies face conversation roadblocks preventing them from this critical action step.

The Committee on Inclusive Excellence (CIE) is leading the charge to bring opportunities for dialogue to NORDP members that will move us beyond simply checking off boxes on a diversity plan or proclaiming that we are realizing our diversity mission goals. Until we all feel that we belong and are valued, we still have work to do toward becoming a more inclusive, welcoming, and actively anti-racist organization. The CIE hosted a series of discussion sessions over June and July, and again on September 30, that were guided by a framework tool – Conversation Roadblocks – developed by Catalyst (https://www.catalyst.org/), a global nonprofit founded in 1962 that helps organizations accelerate inclusion and professional progress for women and other under-represented groups at work.

These sessions were open to all NORDP members who chose to participate and were centered on anti-Black racism and the associated structures of social injustice. These sessions invited participants into uncomfortable conversations on racism and focused on identifying and surmounting the specific fears and assumptions that keep us silent on this issue. Specifically, we discussed conversation roadblocks such as a sense that there is not really a problem to address, the fear of negative consequences if one speaks up, or an assumption that talking will not solve anything. Honestly addressing these roadblocks is the first step towards building a framework for future action to build a culture of anti-racism at both NORDP and our home institutions.

Each Conversation Roadblock event included an opportunity for participants to collectively set ground rules for engagement toward creating a safe space to openly share our thoughts and feelings and to respectfully listen to the perspectives and lived experiences of others. In breakout groups, we reviewed the short but powerful Conversation Roadblocks document and shared stories of how we have encountered conversation roadblocks in our own lives and where we still struggle. The groups then presented key points of their discussions, and participants brainstormed some next steps for our collective journey to justice.

Attendees testified to the power that even these initial conversations can have, e.g.:

“I had a colleague who is a person of color reveal that she had changed her birth name and spent her childhood trying hard to NOT be associated with a non-White race/ethnicity. I thought how exhausting that must be to everyday have to put so much energy in denying a part of who you are. No one should have to do that.”

“I was skeptical about the level of impact an exercise like this could truly make in just one and a half hours. But I walked away with a commitment to the work of racial and social justice, especially learning my own roadblocks and hearing ideas for additional action steps moving forward.”

On-going, honest and open conversation on these issues is critical to true enduring transformational change. Thus, NORDP will be hosting these Conversation Roadblock sessions each quarter for the next year. And, because such discussion is just the beginning of our journey to justice, NORDP’s CIE will also be hosting a developmental series for NORDP members on topics like privilege, allyship, intrinsic bias, cross-cultural collaboration, intersectionality, power dynamics, and institutional racism. In addition, keep an eye out for a climate survey on diversity, equity, and inclusion in early 2021. We hope that you’ll participate in these opportunities to make your voice heard, listen to others’ stories, and continue the hard work of dismantling systemic and structural racism and discrimination in our personal and professional spheres of influence.

Reference: Catalyst, Conversation Roadblocks (October 10, 2019) (https://www.catalyst.org/research/overcoming-conversation-roadblocks-infographic/)

NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.