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Make space for scientists from minority groups to share their experiences

Department of Cell Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

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Amid the greatest social unrest affecting the United States in decades (see Nature; 2020), the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is currently working towards resuming research after a ten-week COVID-19 shutdown. Asking Black colleagues to carry on without acknowledging their debilitating hurt and anguish struck me, a Mexican American MD/PhD student, as unjust.

With the support of my cell-biology department, I organized and moderated an hour-long online discussion on 1 June. Our main objective was to create a supportive and safe space for people to express their thoughts and feelings.

Black and minority-ethnic people make up roughly 40% of the graduate-programme students and 30% of the department’s faculty, postdoctoral trainees and senior research staff. We spoke of the racism we experience inside science as well as outside. Some, like me, had had frightening encounters with police while growing up. Black and minority-ethnic participants said they found the discussions cathartic. White participants said it helped them to better empathize with colleagues facing racism. Several departments in my university’s School of Medicine have expressed interest in conducting similar sessions.

Scientific communities across the United States can help by supporting Black colleagues at their institutions in such ways, while driving substantive and systemic change.

Nature 582, 341 (2020)

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