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Live Chat: Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Continuing the Conversation 9/4/20 @ 1 p.m. EDT


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Nii Addy
37 minutes ago, Guest Lisa Shepard said:

What strategies do you recommend for ensuring that higher ed institutions continue long-term conversations around this topic? 

Thanks for the question. I recommend focusing on creating an environment of inclusivity at your institution. This is a whole area of scholarship, and there are definitely resources and books available for implementing this in your school culture and climate. Secondly, I would say it's important to do the hard work (and homework) or truly evaluating where your institution has fallen short in these areas, and where it's contributed to the ongoing problem. That takes a level of humility for all of us as individuals and institutions. But having this honest approach also allows us (other even more appropriately, others) to identify these shortcomings, and to make commitments to address those shortcomings, for the bettering of our entire communities!

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Diana Liao

Thank you for your time today!
I am interested if anyone is aware of examples of if curricula or textbook materials have been found to be biased themselves, and if this is still prevalent.

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Marguerite Matthews
13 minutes ago, Nii Addy said:

This is such an important question. I'll be completely honest, to agree with you, that this is a challenge at the trainee level and at all levels! To reference a comment that Pablo mentioned in our previous live conversation, it's helpful to acknowledge that various kinds of support have existed in our field well before affirmative action. When people talk about "the old boys club" or other similar comments, it's clear that different people have been given access to various opportunities for a whole host of different reasons. The key here is that we're pushing for equity, especially in instances where many of us from different ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. did not have the same access to these opportunities. As Dr. Matthews also mentioned in our live conversation, these diversity efforts are still based on merit and are not handouts by any means. So these opportunities exist to level the playing field. 

Even so, it's easy to feel that the opportunities are being provided as a token. I would surround yourself with others who can remind you about your worth as a person and as a trainee, and remind you of all the talent and excellent contributions you bring to the table. Sometime, it can be helpful to get this support from other black and brown students in your department or institution, or other black and brown students outside your institution - especially those who walk through similar challenges. But it's also essential to receive that support from allies (and I'm writing to those allies with this statement)! In general, it's helpful to have validation across the board, and to seek out those who will give you that kind of support. 

Personally, this support has come from a huge group of mentors and supporters over the years. Too many to list here, but it includes faculty mentors, NIH program officers, registrars, peers, and those outside science as well.

 

 

I second Nii's comments! I also think it's important for Black and Brown trainees to not focus on other's motives or ideas about their merit or presence in spaces largely occupied by non-marginalized folks. We have to trust and be confident in our worth, our knowledge, our skills, and our abilities and build community with other like-minded individuals and individuals who will be genuinely supportive of our work and career journeys. You believing in you and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you should be what motivates you to keep pressing forward. 

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Andrew Chen

It is just past 2 pm, which means we have reached the official end of today’s live chat. Thank you all for your participation!

SfN encourages you to continue today's conversation within this thread and within your own communities. We also encourage you to explore the diversity, equity, and inclusion resources that are available on Neuronline and on SfN.org. Please also consider visiting BlackInNeuro.com for a library of curated resources and a calendar of upcoming events. One upcoming event that might be of interest is a social that the BlackInNeuro team is hosting tomorrow, 9/5 3 pm for the Black community. To register for the social, click here

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Marguerite Matthews
19 minutes ago, Guest Cameron said:

Thanks to all the panelists for your previous panel discussion and for coming back to continue this conversation, your time and energy are hugely appreciated! I wonder if any of you think critical race theory and broader social-science driven critiques of science could (should?) be directly incorporated into science programs or science classes? Do you think this would be helpful, or potentially harmful to Black and Indigenous students who might experience tokenization by "uninformed" profs/other students during these discussions? Should white/non-BIPOC science profs be trained to hold space for these conversations within the context of a genetics class, for example, and/or would it be plausible to have an entirely separate course requirement taught by race and history scholars? Do you think affinity groups within science cohorts would be helpful or increase feelings of alienation for Black and Indigenous students?

Cameron, this is a fantastic question and I think one a few academic departments are already thinking of this. In particular, Yale Psychiatry is going to host a Reparations Seminar Series that incorporates the reparations framework, critical race theory, etc. Addressing these things are going to be uncomfortable but I think if people are willing to get uncomfortable and have these difficult discussions this will better help dismantle structural racism and not just slip past it by talking only about "unconscious bias that everyone has." The logistics of how to carry this out is one worth exploring but I think addressing RACE and RACISM head on in STEM classes, training programs, faculty meetings, leadership forums, etc needs to happen for everyone to appreciate how deep this issue is and can't be solved by just issuing "Diversity Statements."

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Nii Addy
23 minutes ago, Guest Charleese Williams said:

Would you be willing to list said pros and cons?

This is another good question. It's definitely a fine line to walk. It's important to have diverse voices in committee leadership and committee representation, to get a range of needed perspectives. But it's also important not to overly burden underrepresented students, staff or faculty who are already spread thin in these commitments, and are also often carrying additional emotional weight from our lived experiences. My suggestion would be to chose the leadership of these committees on a case by case basis, through honest conversation with potential chairs of the committee. Then, you can evaluate the pros and cons within each situation. But as a bottom line, whether the committee chair is white or from an underrepresented group, it's critical that diverse opinions are shared on the committee, taken seriously, and that actionable changes are addressed and made, instead of simple lip service.

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Guest Ed Munnich

Thank you to all the panelists for your time over the summer, and today! As a White faculty member, I gained some helpful insight into how to be a more effective mentor for Black students and members of other underrepresented groups. I encouraged my students to attend and I think those who attended heard some helpful advice. I hope that we continue to conversation!

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Marguerite Matthews
23 minutes ago, Nii Addy said:

First of all, I'm sorry to hear about your challenging situation. I also applaud you asking this question, and for showing resilience in the midst of the discrimination. If there is an  ombudsperson at your institution (who can discuss the situation confidentially), this can be a good starting point for a conversation. Ideally, there is also a reporting structure that allows you to report the discrimination and hostility, with any concerns of repercussion for you. But I know this is not always the case.

In terms of transitioning to other programs, it can sometimes be helpful to talk to faculty or supporters at an outside institutions, who can help. If you don't have anyone in that capacity at the moment, feel free to reach out to either me or Dr. Matthews as well. We have both walked other students through similar situations before, where students have successfully changed labs or institutions, and are now thriving, despite the hostile situations they had to leave! 

I would like to co-sign Nii's comments and advice. And please feel free to reach out to me privately! I know this is a difficult situation and you (nor any other trainee) should not feel like you have to navigate it alone! Also more happy to connect you with other incredible trainees who have had to deal with similar situations (in the recent past, in fact).

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Tristan Fehr
21 minutes ago, Guest Fitzroy 'Pablo' Wickham said:

Thank you for your question, Tristan! I love this question because you are totally right– many times allyship comes off as performative and is used primarily for optical purposes. In answering your question I am going to make a suggestion to those in authoritative positions who want to be allies:

1. It's NOT about YOU! Don't get involved in allyship work if your goal is to "remove your guilt". Do it so marginalized groups no longer feel unwelcome in your space.  Stop advertising all the work you have done to be an ally and to promote antiracism in your space. If what you are doing is working, those who are benefitting from it will acknowledge it.

2. LISTEN to those who are AFFECTED! You cannot just assume what their needs are so make sure you are meeting everyone where they are at and that only comes from getting to genuinely know people.

For you, Tristan, we have to be brave to step up to the plate and call in/out our PIs and other leaders when they are not doing a good job at promoting inclusivity. A good move is to always provide practical suggestions along with the criticisms. 

Thank you so much for your answer! 

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Guest Guest_grad_student

Thank you to the panel and moderators for putting forth this discussion. I am heartened to see our field actively participating in these conversations.

One major aspect of diversity in neuroscience (and science in general) that oftentimes gets overlooked in these discussions is the lack of diversity in human subjects research. I myself do Alzheimer's research and am acutely aware that most of our knowledge of aging and AD comes from white (American) bodies. This issue creates several problems and challenges. For example, we know that AD trajectory is different for African Americans and Whites, that AA are almost twice as likely to develop AD in late life, and that sociocultural factors play a critical role in influencing these differences, which lead to greater health disparities. This fundamental lack of racial and ethnic representation not only threatens the validity of our research, but hinders our ability to use this knowledge to improve the lives of *every* member of our community. Reducing health disparities starts with sound and representative research. What are some concrete ways in which we can incentivize researchers to increase diversity in their recruitment? My initial thought is that it starts with a diverse research body, which brings us full circle to the original discussion.

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Stephanie Noble

Just got out of lab meeting and missed the live discussion, but read through afterwards and want to say Thank You discussants for your insights!

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Nii Addy
1 hour ago, Guest Jan Naegele said:

For these conversations to take place, would one-on-one in mentoring meetings be appropriate?

 

Yes, one-on-one mentoring would definitely be appropriate! Here are some additional resources that may be helpful. The first link is from the Diversity Program Consortium of the National Research Mentoring Network. The second link is a manuscript focused on creating a mentoring and coaching network to diversity and inclusion among grad students and postdocs. But the principles likely extend to faculty as well.  

https://www.nigms.nih.gov/training/dpc/pages/nrmn.aspx

https://www.lifescied.org/doi/full/10.1187/cbe.19-10-0195

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Marguerite Matthews
28 minutes ago, Samson Salile said:

how about collaborating giving training opportunity and strengthening neuroscience in Africa?

 

Hi Samson, please check out the World Women in Neuroscience - the group has connections across the globe, including in various countries throughout Africa to promote scientific collaboration as well as provide mentoring and career development opportunities. You can find more information on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/World-Women-in-Neuroscience-187172767593) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/WorldWomenNeuro). The official website will be launching soon! 

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Guest Fitzroy Pablo Wickham
2 hours ago, Guest Guest Margaret said:

Thanks for these helpful insights! Could you say a bit more about the sorts of mistakes one might make in responding to a student in this situation? What kinds of responses are you thinking about that might cause damage?

One common mistake is to only highlight all the disadvantages a person who is underrepresented in field face when compared to their peers. They may already feel inferior and incompetent and hearing that repeated only reinforces. Some professors bring it up as a way to explain why others might be better positioned for success, but it often comes off as saying that without these head starts one might as well quit since their dreams aren't realistic. Instead, highlight those who you are aware of who overcame similar struggles that that student is facing and if possible put them into contact with these individuals who can serve as role models and mentors. 

Also, don't ever tell a student that they may be better suited for another "minority dominated" major if you haven't made an extra effort to compensate for the disadvantages they may face. For example, if they are struggling to pay for educational resources maybe advocate for additional financial assistance on their behalf or if they are juggling many on-campus jobs to cover tuition then be more flexible with deadlines for assignments. Find the problem and identify reasonable ways you might be able to ameliorate the situation.

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Guest Fitzroy Pablo Wickham
2 hours ago, Guest 129d1...044 said:

What can other graduate students do to best support their Black peers/colleagues and their success? (Sorry that might be a very vague and open question).

Anonymous poster hash: 129d1...044

As simple as it sounds it is immensely powerful to hear your peers/colleagues tell you that you matter. You don't have to say those exact words but it shows in your speech and actions. Recognizing our achievements only through a racial lens is not helpful, but doing it as you would do it for your other peers is crucial. Asking for our input, listening to what we have to say without specifically singling us out makes us feel like we belong. For example, asking only your black colleague about their thoughts on something in the presence of others feels performative and asking everyone else but that person makes it look as though you don't value what they might have to say. If you ask for opinions to the general room and that person consistently does not respond then maybe they feel uncomfortable speaking in front of everyone. Don't draw attention to that. Maybe ask them what they thought later in your normal day-to-day interactions.  And only do it if you genuinely care about what they think– not just because you want make sure you are "doing the right thing". Maybe relate your inquiry to their own area of expertise. It shows that you appreciate them for what they have to contribute as an equal rather than what they have to contribute as an other (a black person).

This is a very specific example and there are other ways you can probably think of but hopefully this gives you a good launching pad from which to operate. The opportunities and scenarios are endless. Just maintain at the core of your actions to see us as your equals.

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Guest Fitzroy Pablo Wickham
2 hours ago, Guest BChen said:

Dear Dr. Addy and Dr. Matthews and Fitzroy,

I am a recent graduate pursuing graduate studies in addiction research. Good to have you all today! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy days.

As an Asian American, often I am confronted with the anti-Blackness in my community and troubled by the generation-long-perpetuated anti-Black opinions stemming from not just skin-deep reasons but also the history of racism between minorities. I do not want to invalidate or sweep under the rug the fact that minorities are racist to each other too - which pits minority against minority and hurts the progress of movements like BLM. This results in to parts of the Asian community disregarding / not supporting Black Lives Matter, because they believe the effort should be Minority lives matter, or something other similar narrative. As someone who is a strong supporter of BLM because I know that what we are fighting for is breaking down racial discrimination FOR EVERYONE, but shining a much needed light on the particularly damaging and life-threatening discrimination to black folks.

My question to you three is: what do you think people like me, who are also a minority in STEM, but may be considered a "model minority" (a status I believe most progressive Asian Americans detest being called, I certainly do), can do to break down these anti-Black attitudes within our own and other minority communities? Not only break down these attitudes, but also help those in our communities to see transparently what BLM stands for?

Thank you for your question BChen! I think that much of the problem stems from the popular narrative that BIPOC can't be racist. So a lot of what we have to do is educating everyone, ourselves included, of the fact that this is not true. We also need to recognize as a society that being racist is not a fixed state– I think that is what scares a lot of people. We don't want to feel implicated for the harm that is being done to someone else and if we aren't implicated then we don't feel that it is our responsibility to be a part of the solution. 

As someone who is Asian and who benefits from being a "model minority" it is useful if you are able to:

1. Identify, for others who can't, the privileges they benefit from daily. Just because one is privileged in one regard doesn't mean that they aren't marginalized in other ways and vice versa.

2. Explain why an emphasis is being placed on black lives and that is literally because there are age-old policies in place to ensure that black and brown bodies remain impoverished and imprisoned. There are certainly those who feel as though the BLM movement undermines the struggles of other minority groups. You and I know that it doesn't. Encourage those persons to advocate for their own causes while supporting causes that don't necessarily affect them.

3. Be brave enough to call in/out the instances of anti-Blackness in STEM and otherwise no matter how fleeting the moment may be. The perpetrator may not be aware of their actions and you pointing it out in a non-accusatory way may just result in a change of action on their part. I say non-accusatory as any other way may lead them to become very defensive.

I hope this helps!

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