The University of Florida CTSI is examining long-standing and unspoken issues of racial injustice, equality and diversity within the working environment of the clinical research professional workforce.
Dressed in black, Tiffany Danielle Chisholm Pineda stood on a stage and spoke about her experience as a Black research professional working to eliminate personal biases in scientists.
“Most of the time I’m pointing out what people didn’t have the ability to see because of the perspective of the lens of their culture,” she said. “I am here to share my story so that you can look and see what needs to be done to evolve, to grow, to clean or even throw away your lenses so that these stories are no longer being told, even in 2021.”
Pineda is the chair of the University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Diversity and Cultural Competence Council (UF CTSI DC3), which is funded through the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). She has held multiple positions within the University of Florida for the last 25 years, including working for the university’s Institutional Review Board and serving as the Research Navigator for University of Florida’s CTSI. Around two years ago, she helped establish the DC3 to address disparities she saw in the research professional workforce. The goal of the DC3 is to “examine long-standing and unspoken issues of racial injustice, equality, and diversity within the working environment of the Clinical Research Professional workforce.”
As part of this mission, the DC3 wants to provide a platform for Black researchers to share their stories, with the hope that doing so will highlight the unique challenges they face and create a more welcoming culture at the university. Additionally, the council wants to foster innovation, collaboration and problem-solving within the research community and plug the University of Florida into larger discussions about race, academia and research happening in the United States. The council partnered with Guts & Glory, a local production company, to create the Black Voices in Research Storytelling Event series. The first event took place in January 2021.
“I realized what a powerful mechanism storytelling is for starting conversations,” Pineda said. “After over 20 years in human subjects research, one of the things I realized is, you can't really train out ‘isms,’ but what you can do is present some information that hopefully will cause that paradigm shift.”
Black Voices in Research Storytelling Event
The Black Voices in Research event featured five speakers, each delivering their stories on a stage. Dr. Erika Moore, a KL2 Scholar studying lupus, was among them. She talked about overcoming doubt in herself, and how as a Black woman, she encountered obstacles that others didn’t face. She spoke about entering classrooms and labs and hearing hushed whispering and subtle questions about why she was present.
“They questioned whether I belonged in this space, and that seeded doubt into me, into my soul and into my spirit,” she said. But Dr. Moore said these obstacles inspired her and made her determined to become a role model for others.
Another researcher, Samuel Inkabi, a graduate research assistant from Ghana, was inspired to study biochemistry after watching a Ghanaian scientist on TV. “What caught my attention was the way he was so intrigued by biochemistry, so I said to myself ‘I’m going to do biochemistry,’” Inkabi said, adding that he hopes to inspire the next generation of researchers, especially those from Africa. “Representation in research matters a lot to me, because I am not in this for myself, but for the minority that has a voice and needs to be heard.”
For Pineda, choosing speakers from different backgrounds was important. “There's not one unified look of what a Black researcher looks like,” she said. “We are all different, but all of the voices deserve to be heard.” She wants this event series to be a place for researchers to be celebrated for those differences.
Pineda herself was spurred to speak because of her own experiences in the biomedical research field. She said she’s been told too many times by others that she makes it look easy.
“They would never believe that I had a doll lynched in my office, that I had a ream of paper thrown at me,” she said. “Just because I typically am smiling or because I’ve been in this a long time, it’s not because it’s been easy. It's because I decided that this is where I'm supposed to be.”
How Other Hubs Can Learn from UF CTSI.
Pineda said CTSA hubs must be innovative when creating new programs to address racial inequities.
“Don't think outside the box,” she said. “Throw the box out the window.” Pineda challenges those in the CTSA Program to think about what caused ‘aha moments’ in their own lives. When creating something new, have a diverse group of people present, because “that’s when you’ll really come up with different ideas.”
Pineda is now in the beginning stages of putting together a “call to action” for other CTSA Program hubs, which would bring hubs together to exchange ideas.
“Let's talk about it, and see how we can help one another,” she said. “I'm hoping to get enough diverse people in the room that we can start a conversation with several of the hubs in the room and say, ‘Hey, how can we make it happen for one another?’”
Pineda also offers trainings, including one about culture and consent and another about research ethics. She’s now receiving training requests from other institutions, which she sees as a success.
“That's an indication of the conversation is not only broadening, but becoming palatable,” she said. “I think people are at that point where they want to learn, they want to have the conversations...It's going definitely beyond University of Florida at this point.”
Future UF Storytelling Events
In the future, while Pineda will continue the Black voices event, she wants to include other previously underrepresented voices such as trans researchers, Deaf and hard of hearing researchers and researchers with disabilities, to name a few.
“I had an investigator come to me, beautiful young lady, who wanted to make a difference in one of the things that physicians typically do,” she said, explaining that often, if patients are feminine-presenting, physicians don’t ask or talk about prostate exams, though their patients might need one. “I started talking to her about it, and I realized the voices of our trans researchers are not heard,” Pineda said.
Pineda has already begun the process of choosing speakers for the next “Black Voices in Research Storytelling Event,” which will take place on June 19, 2021.
“I'm already blown away,” she said. “This is going to be hard again. But I'm grateful that it's going to be hard to choose the most impactful, genuine voices.”