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PhD students examine ‘changing faces of science’

Diversity and Injustice in Current Events and Sciences journal group advocates for trainee concerns around diversity and inclusion

By Janjay Innis

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

October 26, 2021
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Abiola Ogunsola

The Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Diversity Interest Group, made up of PhD students, continues to lean into its commitment of collaborating for advocacy, equity and justice in science. Last year, the group formed a journal club called Diversity and Injustice in Current Events and Sciences, or DICES. The club’s goals, laid out by MD/PhD candidate Abiola Ogunsola, are “to educate the UMass Chan community on racism and other forms of discrimination and build community among the three schools and the Worcester community, and to advocate for trainee concerns around diversity and inclusion.”

On Thursday, Oct. 21, the journal club presented “The Changing Faces of Science,” at which members explored underrepresented in medicine learners in STEM. Topic-specific goals were to: provide context to the changing demographics in postsecondary and graduate-level STEM trainees; explore disparities in STEM degree attainment and factors that influence underrepresented minority student persistence in STEM; and to provide UMass Chan missions and outlook regarding trainee diversity, and the gaps that need to be filled.

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Thuyvan Luu

Using census data, PhD candidate Thuyvan Luu shared that while in 1965, people of color represented only 18 percent of the population, its estimated that by 2060, there will no longer be a white majority or any single racial group majority.

“Realizing how the population demographics are changing, it is important that we make STEM education more accessible and the STEM workforce more representative of the population,” Luu said.

Luu presented data from the Pew Research Center, which revealed that only 8 percent of Hispanics are in the STEM workforce and that the percentage of Black STEM workers has not seen significant growth since 2016.

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Helen Magana

In covering the disparities and persistence of degree attainment in STEM, PhD candidate Helen Magana referenced the Riegle-Crumb et al., 2013 study, which revealed that underrepresented students were likely to leave STEM degree programs compared to other disciplines due to opportunity hoarding (in which underrepresented students are excluded from the most advantageous social, economic and educational opportunities), while white students maintained access to highly valued and limited resources. In terms of education, “those resources are advanced academic courses, tutoring and financial stability,” Magana noted. The study found that this hoarding leads to in-group favoritism and systemic control, as well as exclusion of outgroup members most played out in city vs. urban school settings. Other reasons are the burden Black and Latinx students feel of wanting to give back to their communities and therefore feel that STEM education is incompatible with social responsibility.

Marlina Duncan, EdD, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, concluded the presentation by sharing that “change involves in engaging in difficult conversations.” In speaking about diversifying STEM, Dr. Duncan emphasized the need to center race.

“Race matters,” she said. “At times, we like to say everyone has a fair shot if they work hard, that it’s a meritocracy, but it’s not true.”

In sharing data on enrollment at UMass Chan Medical School, Duncan called for intentionality through measurements and goal setting.

“What are our priority areas and priority groups and once here, what do we have in place to make sure they are supported and will thrive,” she said. “We must set policies and procedures in place that can be followed no matter who is in leadership; we must cultivate a climate of inclusion, and we must create a diversity and access space which sets the trajectory of learners in place.”

PhD candidate Cesar Bautista noted that next month, the club will present the next segment of the discussion, focusing on underrepresented in medicine representation in mid-career and senior STEM positions.

Related story on UMass Med News:
GSBS Diversity Interest Group promotes social justice, equity and advocacy