Black, queer scientists, aware of the challenges they've had, try to help other marginalized researchers
A Black Queer Town Hall in STEM was one of the first steps taken.
Black, queer scientists are celebrating the success of a recent town hall meeting they organized, which focused on STEM. And they look forward to encouraging other marginalized scientists to move forward in their field.
Antentor Hinton Jr. thinks back to when he was a lot more unsure of himself based on the way people treated him. “You have to over-prove yourself all the time," he says. "You have to assert yourself so much to say, 'Hey, I’m just as good.' ”
Hinton Jr., an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, is researching damaged mitochondria and how gene therapies help with the aging process, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
He says he feels safe at Vanderbilt because the university is intentional in including him and thinking about his feelings. He points to one person on his mentoring committee.
“She has made everybody aware, not only am I queer, I’m Black, but I’m also just a scientist," he says. "She has a way of getting everyone involved, telling everyone like, OK, well, maybe don’t look at it from this angle. That advice may not be as important about him as how he’s feeling at this time.”
Vanderbilt wants him to meet with scientists it’s trying to recruit and has opened the door for mentoring.
“Vanderbilt already has formed relationships with three historically Black colleges. I wanted to focus and recruit and be able to have them (students) roll into the laboratory, teach them and help them do well,” says Hinton Jr.
Earlier this year, he organized the virtual Black Queer Town Hall in STEM with Biochemist Melanie McReynolds. Here it is in two parts:
The event was modeled after a Black Queer Town Hall event, not focusing on STEM, last June with Bob the Drag Queen and Miss Peppermint. Peppermint participated in the STEM event also.
McReynolds, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, is studying how we can age healthier and looking at metabolism.
She remembers how she was alienated during some internships and now wants to help others. “It would have been great for me to see someone who looked like me, who shared a similar story to say, 'Hey, I’m here. You can do this.' "
“I didn’t have that role model, right?” she says, “But now I try my best to be a role model for others to just let them know, no matter who you are, where you are from, If you want to do this, you can achieve it.”
McReynolds cautions not to put up barriers; accept people for who they are.
Hinton Jr. points to something else in need of improvement.
“Black funding roles are abysmal and it’s something that has to be addressed across the board, whether it’s at the government or private foundation level.”
Cell Biologist Derek Applewhite told WHYY, "I'm happy our voices are now being heard a little bit more, I'm hoping that this wasn't just a brief blip in time."