February 17, 2021

Black History Month Faculty Spotlight

Kevin Saunders, PhD | Associate Professor in Surgery | DHVI Director of Research 

When I was a child STEM was not emphasized like it is now. There was no acronym or schools dedicated to it. It had no distinction beyond that of social studies or literature or even art class for that matter. It was only another subject among the required courses every student took. So I think my exposure to STEM as a child was lacking, and it was not until high school that I began to engage in science and technology. High school was also where my guidance counselor told me that I would not be able to gain acceptance to the top college on my list, which happened to be a well-known research institution, before he even checked my GPA, coursework, or accomplishments. I can look back now and recognize that instance as implicit bias or just plain bias. Moreover, he ended up being incorrect in his assumption as I did get accepted. I think connecting aspiring scientists from diverse backgrounds with those of us in the field is critical. This is one of the best ways to help keep the next generation of scientists on track, ultimately changing the perception of what a scientist looks like, and who can become one.

Prior to last year there was no clear understanding of what was the culture of DHVI. We have all worked over the last year to create and state the culture of DHVI is one that promotes diversity and inclusion. Within the institute we have had difficult conversations about racism, police brutality, bystander intervention, and each of our sense of belonging. We created a bi-monthly series known as DHVI Perspectives to provide employees the opportunity to express questions, share experiences, and reflect on the racial and social injustices in our country. The goal of the series is to build a sense of community within DHVI by learning to understand one another on a deeper level. In December, we hosted the Diversity & Inclusion Symposium with keynote speaker Ada Gregory, Associate Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, to talk to employees about bystander intervention. We are currently planning topics for 2021.

Now that we all have the information, I hope that each of us will use it to make DHVI as inclusive and equitable as possible. As a long-term goal, I would like the institute to engage with groups on Duke’s campus and in the surrounding community to teach aspiring clinical and basic researchers from all backgrounds about biomedical research. It is never too early to start training the next generation of scientists.

Dr. Saunders was featured by WRAL for his work in vaccine development and for leading by example as a Black scientist in his field. Click here to watch.