NICHD STRIVE for Change

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I am offering feedback related to the research process regarding broadening the diversity of the scientific workforce and the diversity of research participants.

1. What obstacles impede advancing health disparities research for NICHD populations?

NICHD and NIH need to address the funding disparities such that underrepresented scholars are assured of equal funding similar to their White counterparts. Furthermore, NIH needs to ensure that its funding portfolio and the scholars funded mirror the demographic characteristics of the United States. The US is no longer a predominantly White country, and the youth population has already become majority non-White.

2.What innovative or novel approaches to research could be leveraged to mitigate health disparities in NICHD populations?

As I stated in my research presentation, many of the ideas that I discussed are unfunded not novel. NICHD needs to ensure that underrepresented scholars (e.g., Black, Latinx, Native American) are funded to conduct research within their respective communities. We need more psychological-epidemiological research similar to what Dr. James Jackson conducted throughout his career. Dr. Jackson is responsible for hundreds of underrepresented scholars in the academy, and I am one of Dr. Jackson's mentees. One way to honor his legacy is to continue funding scientific research conducted by underrepresented scholars on underrepresented populations!

Furthermore, NICHD should insist that large scale research projects include underrepresented scholars. One of my main critiques of the ABCD and ECHO research programs are the lack of underrepresented scholars on the leadership teams despite the fact that the majority of youth under the age of 18 are non-White (Frey, 2019). Where are the Black, Latinx, Asian and Native American members of the ECHO and ABCD leadership teams? Two of the largest organizations dedicated to the study of child and adolescent development include the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA). SRCD includes the Black, Asian, and Latinx caucuses as well as the Ethnic and Racial Issues Committee and the Equity and Justice Committee, and they include significant numbers of Black, Latinx, Asian and Native American scholars with expertise in their respective populations.

3. What are the best opportunities to broaden community engagement in the research process?

The first suggestion concerns the funding disparity impacting scholars of African descent. NIH has published two manuscripts illustrating this disparity (see Ginther et al., 2011; Hoppe et al., 2019). Specifically, scholars of African descent are less likely to receive funding after controlling for demographic and institutional characteristics (Ginther et al., 2011; Hoppe et al., 2019). These findings are consistent with my experiences and those of other Black colleagues who have unsuccessfully tried to acquire funding from various NIH institutes over the course of decades. This is a systemic problem that NIH must address at a systemic level. One solution is to review all proposals submitted by Black scholars in study section. Hoppe and colleagues (2019) indicated that study topic seemed to be a primary reason why scholars of African descent were less likely to be funded so ensuring that all proposals are discussed might alleviate this issue. A second solution is to establish a special emphasis panel to review all proposals submitted by scholars of African descent across all NIH institutes. This avoids the issue of triaging proposals, which is where racism against those scholars may be occurring. A third solution is to abolish the policy stating that only recipients of R01 mechanisms can serve on study sections. The bias against scholars of African descent is cyclical because it prevents those scholars from getting funded, and they can't serve on study section if they can't acquire R01s. Thus, the cycle repeats itself! If NIH abolishes this rule, then scholars of African descent can serve on study section and eliminate the bias against other scholars of African descent during the review process. Once more scholars of African descent serve on study section, this might reduce the institutional bias, and this process repeats itself. A fourth solution is to fund programs like the African American Mental Health Research Scientist Consortium, a program run by Velma McBride Murry and colleagues in the early 2000s. This consortium provided training for junior Black scholars to write successful NIH-funded proposals. I have many friends and colleagues who participated in the program who subsequently received external funding from NIH. Programs such as these are essential for mitigating the bias against scholars of African descent.

When NIH addresses the funding disparity regarding Black scholars, this will mitigate the recruitment and retention of the Black population in scientific research. I can attest that many Black parents have personally informed me that they allowed their children to participate in my research projects because I was a Black woman. Their recognition of me as a member of the Black community assuaged their concerns about the research process given the lack of trust between the Black community and scientific endeavors in the United States (e.g., Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). NIH needs to acknowledge and recognize that funding Black scientists results in their research programs being visible to the Black community, which mitigates the lack of trust between the Black community and the scientific enterprise, and results in more members of the Black community participating in the scientific enterprise.

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Idea No. 186