Science & Technology



Not just about the data: Scientists seek to address racial bias in the lab and classroom

Matthew Diasio, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Science & Technology News

In this time of national reckoning, a grassroots movement of scientists and academics is asking their colleagues to solve problems beyond their research: the scientific community's own issues with racial discrimination and bias.

Scrolling through social media posts tagged #BlackInTheIvory illuminates just some of the experiences Black students, professors and researchers have encountered -- and what the community must face as they seek lasting change.

A Black professor said someone reported him to the police while he was wearing a medical white coat walking to a friend's house. Black students have been told to switch majors because advisors assumed they didn't have the right backgrounds. Then there are the constant encounters with positive references to eugenicists and white supremacists.

"There need to be consequences for actions that create a hostile atmosphere for Black people and people of color in academia," said Emma Bonglack, a Ph.D candidate in pharmacology at Duke.

The results are two national movements known as #ShutDownSTEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and #StrikeForBlackLives, and scientists in the Triangle are lending their voices to the cause.

For many of the groups participating in the Triangle, this includes looking at how they recruit students and faculty. Black workers remain underrepresented in nearly all STEM job sectors, according to the National Science Foundation.


"The scientific research community is not only about the science, is not only about the data, is not only about the questions that we ask, it's also very much about the people who are conducting that work," said Johnna Frierson, assistant dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Diversity and Inclusion at the Duke University School of Medicine.

Calls to action

Just like there have been protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, Triangle universities have organized marches, times of reflection and calls to action.

Duke Health had a march against racism on June 10. On June 16, Duke held a university-wide virtual symposium on Living While Black, with experts providing context to the national movement as well as students and staff sharing their personal experiences at Duke.


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