Minority-Serving Colleges and Universities Virtual Listening Session #1

Thursday, December 9, 2021, 6:00pm-7:30pm ET

Brief Overview

The purposes of the listening session were to listen and learn about perspectives and experiences related to racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical research enterprise among stakeholders who represent, work with, attend, or are otherwise connected to colleges and universities that serve racial and ethnic minority students (i.e., minority-serving institutions or MSIs). The UNITE listening session, facilitated by an outside contractor, was attended by more than 30 participants. Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at NIH, welcomed attendees, and summarized the mission and goals of UNITE.

Summary of Discussion

  • Topic 1: The overall state of racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical sciences
    Participants discussed micro- and macro-aggressions experienced by racial and ethnic minority trainees and professionals in biomedical research settings. Some participants described experiences of racism they experienced directly or witnessed toward Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic students in college and university biomedical labs. Faculty members discussed biases exhibited towards them and other underrepresented minority (URM) scientists. They also discussed racial and ethnic inequities in selection and hiring practices, and subsequent mistreatment in college and university programs and departments. Specifically, a point raised and underscored by others was the misperception that racial and ethnic minority students and faculty members are less-qualified compared with their White and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) counterparts. Participants shared concerns that enduring racism within and outside of educational institutions may damage URM students’ self-efficacy and motivation to seek and advance in biomedical science careers. The group highlighted the need to strengthen training and career pathways, as well as amplify the voices of groups who are underrepresented in science and medicine.

    The group described data aggregation and the labeling of groups as barriers to reducing health disparities and assuring equity and inclusion. They discussed insufficient data collection on racial and ethnic minority populations and the aggregating of data which obscures both between and within group differences. Participants highlighted that the term ‘BIPOC’ (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), which is used with increasing frequency in academic settings, ostensibly excludes Latino/Hispanic persons. In addition, aggregated data on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) groups presumes that subgroups and persons of differing nationalities have the same backgrounds, needs, and opportunities. These issues limit the advancement of equity for Latino/Hispanic and AANHPI populations and does not consider within-group diversity.

  • Topic 2: Opportunities and challenges to racial and ethnic equity in career pathways and workforce equity – education, hiring and research opportunities
    The discussion focused on the need to strengthen and build racial and ethnic equity into training and career pathways. The group emphasized that faculty member diversity in the biomedical sciences remains low and advocated for higher representation of URM persons. Beyond diversity, participants described inequities in opportunities for faculty members to achieve research success. Relative to White scientists at R1 universities (doctoral universities with very high research activity), URM faculty members, particularly at smaller MSIs, tend to have limited professional networks and thus have less awareness and access to resources and research opportunities. This is a structural factor that has the potential to improve if the recent emergence of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts across colleges and universities are successful. Participants also discussed the low retention of racial and ethnic minority faculty members. They described points of failure to recognize and reward the contributions of African American women, in particular. Participants suggested that institutions should invest in mentorship programs that include both training and fair compensation for mentors, with a goal of long-term mentor-mentee relationships.
  • Topic 3: Practices and policies as barriers to racial and ethnic equity
    The discussion centered on practices within the culture of the biomedical ecosystem that serve as barriers to both career development and advancement, as well as health equity. Participants described the perceived practices of minimal nomination and selection of racial and ethnic minority persons on policymaking bodies and advisory boards, biomedical grant review panels, and faculty member search committees in college and university settings. Participants also noted that the lack of visible racial and ethnic minority faculty members and leaders has, among other consequences, led trainees to doubt their own aptitude to advance in the biomedical science careers. The underrepresentation within the workforce and on professional boards also prevents meaningful progress in addressing the health and healthcare needs of racial and ethnic minority populations who are more likely to be medically underserved.
  • Topic 4: Opportunities, needs, and challenges in racial and ethnic health disparities and equity research
    The discussion focused on the importance of community-based participatory research (CBPR) and the need to address several concerns that prevent this approach from having maximum impact. The group noted that few funding opportunities are available to support CBPR.  They also described experiences indicating that grant review panels are more critical of CBPR applications compared with basic biomedical science applications, which has a negative impact on funding for health disparities research. In addition, the total direct and allowable cost limits within grant budgets prevent researchers from providing the needed support for community engaged leaders and organizational partners. The group also discussed the concern that the initial engagement with potential community collaborators often occurs after a grant submission or award. They asserted that community engagement is needed during the research design phase so that community-specified feedback can be considered. Most PhD program curricula do not include formal CBPR training, and this was suggested as a core competency across areas of science.
  • Topic 5: Actions and initiatives to address racial and ethnic equity within your institution
    Participants described actions and initiatives at MSIs, which have had varying levels of success. Institutions have hosted facilitated discussions on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA); however, participants expressed disappointment about the tendency for those conversations to focus on the guilt experienced by White individuals, rather than elevating the voices of racial and ethnic minority persons. Some institutions are implementing pathway programs to enhance skill-building and relationship development among post-doctoral fellows. Others are offering early-stage researcher mentorship programs to provide guidance on obtaining research funding and earning tenure. Participants also described initiatives designed to help community members learn about and become eligible for community health and research support job opportunities.
  • Topic 6: Proposed solutions for NIH – tactics, actions, initiatives, policies, and engagement
    Participants proposed a wide array of solutions, focused on reducing racial gaps in NIH funding and increasing support for health disparities researchers. Participants suggested policies to increase equity during grant application reviews, including the inclusion of URM reviewers on every grant study section, as well as implicit bias training and CBPR education for grant reviewers. Participants also recommended that NIH award a greater proportion of training grants to MSIs as a means of increasing capacity and building sustainable research programs, and provide extramural investigator feedback mechanisms to continually improve policies conducive to research-related equity.

NIH is grateful for the participation and perspectives provided by the wide variety of stakeholders in these listening sessions. For more information about past listening sessions, and to follow the efforts of the UNITE initiative, please visit the UNITE webpage at

The opinions and perspectives presented in this summary reflect those of listening session participants, and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives or practices of the NIH.

This page last reviewed on October 26, 2022