Dozens of students gathered at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Saturday to discuss diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions as well as ongoing challenges in STEM fields for minorities after college life.
The event, “BioDiversity: The Realities of Social Diversity in STEM,” was hosted by the Yale Undergraduate Society for the Biological Sciences and included talks and workshops by physicians and biomedical executives, as well as a Q&A panel consisting of a Yale engineering professor and students at the Yale School of Medicine.
“We wanted to raise awareness about similar issues and challenges faced by diverse individuals who choose to enter the sciences,” said Nickie Desroches ’19, who helped organize the conference. “Many of us have already been forced to confront these challenges and these challenges won’t disappear after we graduate from Yale.”
Seungju Hwang ’17, one of the event’s student coordinators, said heightened campus discussions about racism and inclusion on campus during fall 2015 inspired him to organize the conference. According to Hwang, students wanted to invite successful people who had gone through similar experiences with racial discrimination in college and continued to face these experiences in their professional lives.
“The social dynamics at work at Yale College are not that different from the same social dynamics that work against people who are marginalized in STEM and the biomedical profession,” Hwang said.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Alden Landry, an emergency medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the faculty assistant director of the Office of Diversity Inclusion and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School.
As a physician who studies disparities in medicine and teaches cultural competency, Landry spoke to attendees about his personal and professional experiences involving racism and discrimination in the biomedical profession.
He addressed the issue of unconscious bias in quality of care and the lack of diversity in the biomedical profession, which can be detrimental to both physicians and patients. Students who graduate from more diverse medical schools become more culturally competent physicians who can better handle interactions with patients from different backgrounds, Landry said.
Following the keynote speech, guests participated in smaller workshops led by John Sanchez SPH ’98, the assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and Jennifer Good, the president and CEO of New Haven-based Trevi Therapeutics Inc.
At the workshop, Sanchez discussed his work in developing medical school curricula to include more courses on health disparities among people of different races.
“Many medical and dental schools are still struggling to understand how to teach and handle the social issues of patients,” Sanchez said. “In today’s climate, many millennials are frustrated by that because they want to have an effect — not just on the individual and physiological level, but also on the public health and community level.”
During her workshop, Good led discussions with students about the role of women in the STEM fields, particularly as college faculty and in senior corporate positions.
Good said she has not felt that being a woman has been a disadvantage in her career and that gender discrimination in the workplace has significantly decreased in recent years. As long as they are patient and hard-working, women can actually benefit from being underestimated at first, she said. Good also emphasized the importance of advocating for other women throughout the workshop.
Janeen Thomas ’19, a conference attendee, said the conference allowed students to hear from speakers of different backgrounds, given that speakers at Yale medical career events are typically white men.
Thomas added that she chose her current research lab principal investigator because, like Thomas, she was South Asian and female. She added that it had been especially rewarding to learn and work with professionals who sharethe same background as her.
Hwang said that while the issue of diversity and inclusion in STEM careers has seen progress in recent years, students often do not use their privilege as Yale students to confront these challenges.
“We have to use these platforms to address the hard questions,” Hwang said. “We don’t necessarily have these difficult discussions about privilege, but we need to continue the ongoing effort to talk about these issues.”