A Transformative Response by Mount Sinai To Accelerate Efforts To Confront Racism

A Transformative Response by Mount Sinai To Accelerate Efforts To Confront Racism

  • New initiatives reinforce Mount Sinai’s national leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion

  • Graduate School leadership, faculty, staff, students, and postdocs have instituted new priorities and measurable goals; redefined their mission; and committed to foundational principles that will guide every effort

  • Learn how Students for Equal Opportunity in Science is taking action

5 min read

Every individual and all activities within the Graduate School will model the new values established in 2020 by the Graduate School Advisory Group on Racism and Bias in its Statement of Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” It reads:

“The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences seeks to redefine ‘excellence’ by promoting a nurturing and supportive environment that allows all members of our community to thrive and to become leaders in the effort to achieve equity in science and medicine. Diversity in our community will stimulate innovation in research, strengthen our education, inspire collaboration and creativity, and address inequities in the practice of scientific research.”

In addition to ongoing and institutional initiatives, the Graduate School’s new efforts in 2021 include:

·      Student liaison fellowships: Recipients will work with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; the Graduate School Advisory Group on Racism and Bias; and the Office of Student and Postdoctoral Affairs to advance anti-racism efforts within the Graduate School.

·      Career development fellowships: Recipients will participate in professional development activities examining how academic, research, industry, and other sectors may perpetuate racism and ways to address racism.

·      Leadership awards: These awards will honor and compensate students who demonstrate exceptional initiative in advancing anti-racism work at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Additional activities coordinated with Icahn Mount Sinai include working with the new Center for Anti-Racism in Practice “to disrupt racism in medicine and science” and conducting joint “Unity in Action” Town Halls.

How Students for Equal Opportunity in Science Is Leading Efforts

Over the course of her STEM journey, Justine Noel has always looked for opportunities to help students from racial and ethnic backgrounds historically underrepresented in science. She found a new opportunity when she enrolled at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2015: Students for Equal Opportunity in Science (SEOS).

“It seemed like a great way to connect with people who were on a similar journey, help each other stay in academia, and address the lack of representation not just among primary investigators in the field but also within administration,” Ms. Noel says. “Being a first-generation student, it became like a home away from home for me, and my colleagues became family.”

Ms. Noel, a Biomedical Sciences PhD candidate, is investigating the impact of environmental exposures on the development of the fetal immune system and susceptibility to developing allergic diseases with M. Cecilia Berin, PhD.

For nearly two decades, SEOS has been promoting diversity in science by providing support and resources to graduate students, improving faculty mentoring, and increasing networking opportunities among Mount Sinai students and other underrepresented students in science throughout New York City. It also promotes interest in science and research among high school and college students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We participate in community events such as science fairs and mentoring to inspire and encourage these students to enter the field,” says SEOS co-chair Keino Hutchinson, a Biomedical Sciences PhD student in the laboratory of Avner Schlessinger, PhD, with a concentration in Pharmacology and Therapeutics Discovery. “We also provide members with the soft skills they need to achieve career success, such as creating resumes and doing job interviews. And we host social events on campus, such as Meet the Mentors, where underrepresented Mount Sinai alumni talk about their journeys. These activities help to enrich the Mount Sinai experience and build our members as scientists.”

In fall 2020, SEOS partnered with the Graduate School to launch a one-day virtual Inaugural Biomedical Research Symposium for Underrepresented Scholars. It attracted an estimated 100 students nationwide who gained exposure to a variety of Mount Sinai research programs and projects through oral and poster presentations. They connected with Mount Sinai faculty and students, together creating a vibrant community. Participants included undergraduate and Master’s students, PREP (Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program) Scholars, lab technicians, and non-traditional students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“…it not only gave participants an opportunity to practice presenting their data, which is essential for pursuing a PhD, but also to step out of their comfort zone and do it among unfamiliar faces.”

–Keino Hutchinson, SEOS Co-Director

“It was beneficial in that it not only gave participants an opportunity to practice presenting their data, which is essential for pursuing a PhD, but also to step out of their comfort zone and do it among unfamiliar faces,” Mr. Hutchinson says. “Ultimately, an opportunity like this helps in their development as a future scientist, and for that reason it is going to be an annual event.”

In October 2021, the Graduate School partnered with SEOS to sponsor SINAI4US, a two- day Mount Sinai Research Symposium and PhD Application Assistance and Advisory Program for Underrepresented Scholars.

“As I encounter new opportunities within this space, I want to share my experiences and encourage others who look like me and are on similar journeys.”

–Justine Noel, SEOS Co-Director

For Ms. Noel, involvement in SEOS was beneficial as it provided an opportunity for her to develop leadership and managerial skills, first as community service chair and then as SEOS co-chair—a role she used to enhance the organization’s legacy. She helped launch The Scoop, a monthly newsletter that showcases SEOS member achievements and research. “Students are a little hesitant about celebrating their accomplishments, so we decided to share their stories with graduate and medical students,” Ms. Noel says. “We also showcased what students were working on, which created opportunities for them to reach out more easily to peers for help in accomplishing their scientific goals.”

Adds Ms. Noel: “As I encounter new opportunities within this space, I want to share my experiences and encourage others who look like me and are on similar journeys.”