Dr. Esteban Burchard believes that a lack of diversity leads to bad science including the systematic exclusion of minorities from clinical research including clinical trials, biomedical research, and pharmacological studies. This institutionalized exclusion of minorities both as researchers and clinical participants has dangerous effects both in terms of the development of effective treatments for communities of color and the resulting drastic health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.
Burchard, a SACNAS life member and professor at UC San Francisco, discusses the imperative for diversity within science in a new film series produced by another SACNAS member, Dr. Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer through her work as Director of Diversity & Communication Training at iBiology. The films series is part of the “Background to Breakthrough” project.
Feliú-Mójer explains, “We at iBiology really wanted to show the value of diverse perspectives in STEM, and how diversity can lead to inclusion so that science can benefit everyone. We wanted to focus on how the life experiences and cultural background of underrepresented scientists contributes to outstanding research and innovation.”
Burchard was a perfect fit for the project. He and his team study the interplay between genes and their social and physical environments to determine the root causes of asthma health disparities among different populations locally and globally.
In addition to making a clear, succinct, accessible, and deeply substantiated case for STEM diversity, the films also focus on how the identities, cultures and backgrounds of underrepresented scientists fuel our ingenuity and approaches to problem solving.
Feliú-Mójer also wanted to frame Buchard’s story in a new way, beyond the “overcoming-it-all narrative.” She writes, “Esteban Burchard is Latino. He grew up in poverty, raised by a single mother, and has faced discrimination all of his life. He is now a world renowned researcher and tenured professor…” But Feliú-Mójer argues that these narratives are in danger of becoming “stale, overused, and devoid of important context and depth.”
As a community working towards STEM diversity, Feliú-Mójer hopes that we can own our stories and take control of our narratives. She says, “We can’t deny the challenges that we as individuals and communities of color have faced and continue to face. But I truly believe we can flip the narrative, and shed light on how overcoming those challenges has given us valuable perspectives and skills that will not only allow us to thrive in STEM, but bring important insights into our fields.”
Burchard hopes that the videos will go a long way to inspiring young students “We all have experiences which can be shared. Especially when we are looking for role models that look like us and who come from similar backgrounds.”
Feliú-Mójer agrees that these videos are a good starting point for inspiring people and sharing new and different ideas. “But,” she says, “lasting change requires that we take action. To make STEM truly diverse and inclusive, we not only need to share stories like Esteban’s and the others we will feature in ‘Background to Breakthrough’, but we need to support the career development of underrepresented scientists and leaders, bring allies to the table, advocate for institutional and policy changes, among many other things. I think that is where SACNAS' work intersects with the science communication and storytelling work iBiology—and I am, personally as a SACNISTA—doing.”