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Campus conversation: Coming together to enhance diversity in STEM

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

October 29, 2020
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 How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD, the 2020 campus read, served as a reference point for the conversation.

As the UMass Medical School community addresses diversity and advocacy through a virtual campus conversation series this fall, students took the lead on Wednesday, Oct. 28, in a discussion about diversifying the face of science and medicine.

The purpose was to consider the successes and challenges of initiatives to recruit, mentor and retain people of diverse backgrounds into STEM and health professions fields. Led by Peter Cruz-Gordillo, MD/PhD candidate and University of Massachusetts student trustee, the forum also explored why this goal is central to the antiracist concept outlined in the book How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD.

“We have to look at the fact that every single aspect of life is intersectional, from gender, to ethnicity, to all the cultures, to religions, to orientations. All of those things have to be looked at in the context of understanding your own ideas about what race actually is,” Cruz-Gordillo said, addressing the online crowd. “That is how we come together and devise a plan to better ourselves and our community.”

Participants in the discussion heard from panelists, including Brian Lewis, PhD, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology, assistant vice provost of outreach and recruitment, and associate dean for diversity and prematriculation programs in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Lewis presented on how the educational outreach programs and Worcester Pipeline Collaborative can influence student success.

“One of the important lessons learned is that environment is critical,” he said. “We prioritize providing enhanced support for all students, through targeted initiatives and groups such as IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development), DIG (Diversity Interest Group), DRIVE (Diversity, Representation, and Inclusion for Value in Education), SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) and SNMA (Student National Medical Association).”

Panelists included Eboney Hearn, executive director of MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs; Kelly Garcia, GSN student on the DNP track and co-president of the Graduate Student Nursing Organization; Sarah Cleveland, PhD student and co-chair of diversity and inclusion on the Graduate Student Committee; and Lael Ngangmeni, MD/PhD student and secretary of the Student National Medical Association.

The discussion was opened up for a question-and-answer session, in which participants shared their thoughts and opinions on inclusivity and diversification of their institutions and beyond.

“It is important that we continue having these conversations with ourselves and the people in our lives; this is how we take action and lead future generations,” said Cruz-Gordillo.

Future conversations include:

Oct. 29: A Campus Conversation on LGBTQ Equity, led by Kenneth Peterson, PhD, FNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing; co-chair, UMMS Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

Nov. 2: A Campus Conversation on Faculty Diversity, led by Milagros Rosal, PhD, vice provost for health equity and professor of population & quantitative health sciences.

Nov. 5: A Campus Conversation on How to Be an Antiracist, with guest facilitator Michael Hyter, chief diversity officer, Korn Ferry.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
The Equity Collaborative builds culture, tools to promote gender parity
UMMS community members share ideas for eliminating health disparities