Amidst the last few weeks of summer break, campus is abuzz with preparation for the start of the fall semester. But in all that bustle, staff, faculty, graduate students and postdocs are taking time for the important work of coming together for inclusiveBio (iBio), a day of conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion in the Departments of Integrative Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology. According to IB graduate student, and long-time organizer, Jessica Aguilar, the symposium took inspiration from an event first hosted by then MCB graduate student Lisa Eshun-Willson in 2018. As a student from a background underrepresented in academia, Aguliar found that experience positive and affirming, and knew it was something she wanted to bring to a larger audience. “It felt like a weight lifted through naming those experiences, knowing that other people had similar experiences, and building community.” With help from a few other dedicated graduate students and staff members like Jaemin Lee, Monica Albe and Carina Galicia, Aguilar grew the program into an annual event, which has been a driving force in what IB-chair Dr. Eileen Lacy hailed as “a remarkable and encouraging increase in DEI efforts in Integrative Biology, in recent years.”
Aguilar describes the iBio symposium as committed to two main goals: “learning about issues faced by URM grad students/people in academia and ways to make change for the better and building community.” This year, iBio’s theme titled: Anti-blackness in STEM: moving past inclusion toward belonging, has focused specifically on what it means to be Black in academia. Speaking as part of a panel (left) on the Black experience in STEM, Khansaa Maar, a PhD student in MCB called attention to the history of the biological sciences as a tool to support and justify racism and how this impacts her and her Black colleagues. She explained that as biologists, we inherit a responsibility to dismantle the racial oppression that has stemmed from our discipline. During Maar’s first year at UC Berkeley, the biases and prejudices in Biology and the academic community often made her “feel like 3/5th of a scientist.” She is not alone in that sentiment. Panelist Dr. Diana Bautista (MCB) offered these sobering statistics: “over 60% of Black students [at UC Berkeley] feel excluded, prejudged in their abilities, and isolated. 25% of Black students leave our programs without a PhD.” Left unexamined, discrimination embedded in the culture of academia has consequences far beyond who participates and who feels they can have a voice in science. STEM Graduate Diversity Officer Dr. Devon Horton (UC Davis) noted that for the many IB and MCB researchers focused on medicine and the human condition, it is imperative we recognize an often overlooked reality that “racism is a public health issue.” In her assessment, identifying and rooting out racism must be an integral part of our scientific practices.