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Summer Pipeline Program to Increase BIPOC SGM Scholars in HIV Research

Our goal is to answer the question of how these folx can find support around addressing the real barriers they’ll face as they travel along their academic trajectory as BIPOC and SGM people.”

Jagadīśa-devaśrī Dācus, Ph.D., M.S.S.W.
ISGMH Associate Director

Northwestern University will host a new pipeline program that aims to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals working in HIV research this summer.

Jagadīśa-devaśrī Dācus, Ph.D., M.S.S.W.

The Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH)’s Associate Director, Jagadīśa-devaśrī Dācus, Ph.D., M.S.S.W., secured a supplemental grant from The District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research (P30 AI117970, National Institutes of Health [NIH]) to fund this pilot program. The Third Coast Center for AIDS Research and the Southern AIDS Coalition are sponsoring the program in collaboration with ISGMH.

The summer intensive program will be held in conjunction with the 2022 National LGBTQ Health Conference in July. Twelve emerging BIPOC SGM scholars will be selected to attend the conference and participate in two weeks of programming. The program will provide access to crucial mentorship, training, and networking opportunities necessary to prepare the next generation of professionals in HIV research.

This pilot program is an important first step in addressing the well-documented issue of representation in the higher levels of HIV research. Although BIPOC members of the SGM community are affected even more acutely by health disparities, they remain underrepresented among the professional scholars conducting research.

Dācus points to the dearth of BIPOC SGM professionals working in HIV research as motivation for this program.

“This program acts as part of a broader NIH initiative around increasing diversity in the scientific workforce and pushing for equity in the grant review process and, subsequently, access to NIH funding. Our goal is to answer the question of how these folx can find support around addressing the real barriers they’ll face as they travel along their academic trajectory as BIPOC and SGM people. However, as much as intersectionality can create barriers, it also provides these folx with unique skills, strengths, abilities, and insights to do work that is different from their non-BIPOC counterparts. It’s not just about representation, but increasing the quality and the efficacy of the work that’s done. Different isn’t less, different is actually improved.”

One barrier that prevents young and early career BIPOC scholars from advancing their careers in HIV research is that there are few chances for professional training specifically centered on BIPOC SGM populations.

The National LGBTQ Health Conference, which is hosted by ISGMH, is the largest conference of its kind in the nation and thus offers a great opportunity for professional training and networking. The conference boasts significant BIPOC SGM attendance, and HIV research features prominently among the topics covered.

ISGMH’s ongoing commitment to nurturing the next generation of SGM health researchers means that the infrastructure for networking, mentoring, and education is already in place. This program builds on that existing infrastructure to specifically impact BIPOC SGM researchers by tailoring the training and mentorship provided as well as the methods used to recruit new scholars.

“The opportunity for the Institute to engage in this type of pilot endeavor makes a lot of sense given our history of formally and informally training researchers at all levels of research—from postdoctoral fellows all the way to undergrads. In addition, the conference has been one area in which we have historically gathered underrepresented researchers in order to facilitate professional development. The foundations are already in place, so it seems like an obvious move to capitalize on that.”

This pipeline program is also noteworthy in that it centers collaboration with new and existing community partners. Both ISGMH and Third Coast Center for AIDS Research will develop the two-week program in keeping with the Center’s existing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Pipeline Initiative guidelines. These guidelines ensure that the training and resources provided are tailored specifically to address the uniqueness of both obstacles faced, and strengths offered by BIPOC SGM participants. The program’s collaborative partners also include the Southern AIDS Coalition, which maintains valuable connections with an extensive network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) in geographic areas where health disparities are most pronounced for BIPOC SGM populations. This cooperation is crucial in improving representation, as it connects trainees to the professional development resources available at ISGMH and partner institutions.

This year’s intensive represents the start of an important paradigm shift regarding diversity and representation in HIV science. Dācus believes that the program will help carve out and maintain a roadmap for underrepresented minorities to circumvent the structural barriers in place to becoming HIV researchers. With the success of this year’s pilot program, further funding can expand its scope and depth, leading to further strides in equity.

“The goal is to see this evolve from a two-week program to a month-long, or even year-long type of fellowship that parallels participants’ academic training, whether graduate or postdoctoral. It’s in the early stages, but there’s a lot of excitement on many levels and we really hope to see this program grow into an ongoing, long-term professional development program that is institutionalized within ISGMH.”

Applications for the program open February 22 and close March 21. For more information, please see our program announcement.