Tag Archives: diversity

Introducing SPINES

As scientists who come from underrepresented backgrounds, we have had many informal discussions about the climate at Sackler and advocating for diversity in the graduate programs at Sackler. While Tufts Sackler supports various pipeline initiatives (PREP, P2P, BDBS) we feel that it does not have mechanisms in place that intentionally create a space for minority scientists who are training at Sacker. We met in March and had an open discussion about our interests relevant to the group, the immediate needs of the community, and long term goals.

Programs aimed at diversifying the STEM academy have successfully increased recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in careers in the sciences. An emphasis on recruitment may help to update the narrow image of what a scientist looks like, but additional action is needed to evolve the full picture of who scientists are. We are Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence at Sackler (SPINES).

Inclusive excellence is a model first proposed by the American Academy for Colleges and Universities and recognizes that efforts of diversity can result in meaningful, measurable improvements in the excellence of an institution when that institution creates an environment that welcomes the cultural diversity of those included. For the STEM academy to benefit from a diversity of contributors, the culture and atmosphere of the STEM academy must update to include that of the new participants. It is this dissonance that may be responsible for the ever discussed “leaky pipeline” or disappearance of diverse bodies from the STEM career path as their career trajectory progresses. As problematic as the “pipeline” analogy is (we can unpack that for days), anyone concerned with progress in the sciences should recognize that this progress requires sustained conversations around social justice issues and retention of minority scientists.

SPINES believes we can help each other achieve inclusive excellence in the sciences by building a community of scientists at Sackler who recognize and celebrate each other’s diversity of ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and gender identity. We formally describe our mission below, but loosely we want to build spaces where we feel free to discuss all aspects of our lives as developing scientists. We will offer each other support even if this means giving technical advice as someone works through frustrating equipment errors in the lab or offering a shoulder to lean on as one struggles with the pain and helpless feeling from viewing the latest videotaped example of injustice on the nightly news.

Below we list some short-term goals for the group; however, we would like to highlight that our organizational model relies on horizontal leadership and community-based decision-making. We recognize that the needs and priorities of a community can change over time and therefore we encourage all members to take active roles in developing and implementing their ideas with the knowledge that the entire group will support them.

Short-term goals
• Enhance the diversity of speakers that are invited to give program seminar talks
• Learn about active bystander, anti-oppression, intersectionality, and privilege via reading books, articles, and invited  speakers
• Connect incoming underrepresented graduate students with a peer mentor
• Build professional connections with biotech/industry to address the lack of diversity in these sectors
• Provide networking opportunities

Our priority is to establish a welcoming community at Sackler where people of all backgrounds and identities feel nurtured and supported in achieving their scientific, personal, and intellectual goals.

Look out for our upcoming events and for more information see: https://tuftsspines.wixsite.com/tuftsspines

Written by: Camila Barrios-Camacho, Chris Bartolome, Janel Cabrera, Laverne Melón, and Vanessa Yanez

On Unity Found in Biomedical Research

The Diversity and Inclusion page of the Tufts website includes colorful bar graphs on the university population. Sackler is 62% female and over 15 different countries are represented. Much beauty can be found in exploring our diversity, but much can be also gained from learning what unifies. Here at Sackler, many of us study this unity.

My research focuses on the disease of epilepsy, but I find the work rewarding and worthwhile because of the potential to find common mechanisms on how human brains work. Many unifying discoveries on the human system have come from study of disease. Take the textbook case of Patient HM, who had both sides of his temporal lobe surgically reduced to cure his epilepsy. Through studying him during learning tasks, Dr. Brenda Milner demonstrated in the 1950s the existence of episodic and procedural memory. In neuroscience today, cognition and consciousness are two remaining Holy-Grails, and both are affected in epilepsy. Epileptic individuals often suffer from cognitive disorders. In studying consciousness, investigators such as Dr. Hal Blumenfeld at Yale have used the transient impairments of consciousness observed in epilepsy to discover a “consciousness system” network in the functioning brain. The study of disease unveils the nature of the working machine.

Many different diseases are studied at Sackler, but looking at the big picture, what many of us are engaged upon is a search for unifying truths about the human condition. We are creating knowledge of what unifies. If you discover one truth, one singular truth of how the human body works, it is a truth that applies to all, to every group represented on the Tufts Diversity and Inclusion page. This is an empowering thought.