NIH Presents Report on Racism in Science, Launches UNITE Initiative to End Structural Racism in Biomedical Research

During a meeting of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on February 26, 2021, NIH discussed new and ongoing efforts to eliminate agency structures perpetuating racism in the biomedical research enterprise. During the meeting, the ACD’s Working Group on Diversity (WGD) presented its Report on Racism in Science, a document that had been in development throughout the past year in the wake of nationwide protests condemning White supremacy and racial inequity, especially as it affects Black members of the scientific community. The WGD report presents several strategies and recommendations for the ACD to consider in addressing racism in science, organized into the four following themes:

  • Acknowledge racism and inequity & provide support to Black members of the scientific community
  • Conduct research to understand systemic racism in research studies and the scientific workforce
  • Monitor acts of racial bias and change the culture surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Make structural changes to mitigate the impact of racism and implicit bias in the scientific workforce

Although there was hesitation from some ACD members about the emphasis on racism against Black scientists instead of all under-represented groups in science, the findings and recommendations of the report were met with wide praise by the ACD. The report is available on the ACD website.

In addition to the WGD report, one new NIH effort discussed at length during the meeting was the establishment of the UNITE Initiative, a series of committees with membership across the NIH’s institutes and centers charged with addressing structural racism within NIH-supported science and identifying opportunities and recommendations to improve agency practices. The UNITE Initiative consists of five committees each aiming to address one of the following objectives:

  • U – Understanding stakeholder experiences through listening and learning
  • N – New research on health disparities, minority health, and health equity
  • I – Improving the NIH culture and structure for equity, inclusion, and excellence
  • T – Transparency, communication, and accountability with NIH’s internal and external stakeholders
  • E – Extramural research ecosystem: changing policy, culture, and structure to promote workforce diversity

Aligning with the stated objectives of the WGD report and the UNITE Initiative, NIH has released a request for information (RFI) seeking stakeholder input on NIH approaches to advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in the biomedical research enterprise and expand research on health disparities. Comments may address aspects of the biomedical workforce, policies and partnerships at NIH, significant gaps in research areas, or any additional suggestions for the NIH to consider. Comments are due April 9, 2021 on the NIH submission website.

A recording of the ACD meeting is available on the NIH website.

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 2), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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