Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education is a collaborative effort to create interdisciplinary online learning materials that raise awareness of anti-Black racism in the US. But when, why, and how did the project start?
The opportunity to develop this project directly arose from the horrific murder of George Floyd in 2020. The Amgen Foundation and Amgen’s Black Employee Network wanted to meaningfully address the deep structural issues that Floyd’s death exposed, and to which the Black Lives Matter movement continues to call attention. Consequently, they announced funding to support projects with the potential to transform the structures that sustain racial inequity in the US.
The Amgen Foundation is deeply committed to addressing racial diversity, equity, and inclusion in science education and beyond. LabXchange allows for countless collaborative possibilities, including convening leading scholars and experts who share our aspiration to create more equitable opportunities for success for everyone across a wide variety of scientific endeavors.” —Judy Brown, Chairman of the Board of the Amgen Foundation
As long-time collaborators, the Amgen Foundation invited Dr. Robert Lue, the late faculty director of LabXchange, to develop a proposal. He and Gaurav Vazirani, managing director of LabXchange, leapt at the opportunity to respond to this urgent call to break down structural racism, particularly at its intersection with science. Together, they proposed using LabXchange to develop and disseminate high-quality, trustworthy digital learning content that educators and students could use to answer challenging questions about race and racism in the US.
The LabXchange team, however, lacked the expertise to do justice to these critical topics. For this reason, the proposal requested funding to hire experts who could establish direction, research, and author the new learning resources. We wanted to ensure that this new content would be as relevant and high-quality as possible. To do this, we needed to assemble the right team. First, we prioritized collaboration with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which have sustained a rigorous discourse on racial equity in the US for over a century.
We then invited leading experts in the field to join the project’s faculty steering committee. Once the steering committee was established, we issued calls to various HBCUs for graduate students and postdocs to apply to be project fellows. We had two guiding principles in mind: first, that leading experts would drive the direction of the project, and second, that the material would be developed through real lived experience, with an appropriate epistemic standpoint.
Applicants for the project fellowship were invited to submit written statements and participate in video interviews, and were selected by a hiring committee composed of LabXchange faculty directors, staff, and steering committee members. The project fellows’ work spans several disciplines, including public health, education, sociology, psychology, and evolutionary biology.
To get to know the project fellows, explore the Meet the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education Fellows pathways:
“LabXchange has envisioned well-conceived and extensive curricular materials that will allow students to explore the nature of human biological diversity and its relationship to socially defined race concepts in great depth. Almost twenty years ago in my essay ‘Why We Should Teach Our Students About Race,’ I opined about the completely ineffective K-12 approach concerning human biological diversity. Thanks to LabXchange and the Amgen Foundation, we now have a plan to rectify this.” —Dr. Joseph L. Graves Jr., faculty steering committee member
Under the direction of the steering committee, we will develop two new clusters of learning pathways to raise awareness of racism. Racism as a Public Health Crisis aims to directly engage with the underlying structural issues of systemic racism and to train students to recognize and rectify them. It is incredibly important for teachers to have access to high-quality, trustworthy resources that help students learn to engage with data-driven arguments. When we first embarked on this project, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. Appallingly, data showed that Black Americans were 2 to 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans. This led us to ask where these inequities originate by applying an antiracist lens to our healthcare system.
By identifying features of structural racism in our healthcare system, we could train learners to apply this lens to other systems. In this vein, the healthcare system becomes a compelling “model system” that we can use to practice recognizing structural racism and its effects. In addition, addressing racial health disparities allows us to design lessons on the absence of a biological basis for race, which high school and college educators can incorporate into introductory genetics and evolution classes. Finally, this cluster allows us to illustrate how some scientists have misused science to support racist ideology throughout history. As scientists and as a society, we need to own up to this history before we can move past it.
To increase diversity in science and diverse leadership in science, science teachers must be equipped with inclusive teaching strategies. Antiracist and Inclusive Teaching Strategies is directly based on our theory of change: that encouraging educators to incorporate these resources into their regular teaching practices will create the necessary critical mass to ensure that future educators continue to do the same.
It would be naive to expect that these resources will end structural racism in public health and science education, but we hope to be a part of the solution. We want to offer a scientific lens to clarify what race is and what it isn’t. There are multiple lines of evidence that all show that there is no biological basis for race among humans. However, despite the fact that there is no meaningful biological definition of race, race remains an incredibly salient aspect of our lives due to social, economic, political, and historical factors. In healthcare, recognizing that there is no biological basis for race should make us skeptical of long-lasting health disparities and attempts at race-based medicine. In education, recognizing that there is no biological basis for race should inspire us to recognize that all our students have remarkable potential and that it is our job as educators to help them cultivate it.
We want to disseminate and celebrate the scholarship of our steering committee and graduate fellows, who are established and emerging leaders in the fields of public health and education. We hope this is the beginning of a large-scale project to develop high-quality online learning resources around these topics, but even more so, the beginning of a large-scale, nationwide conversation.
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