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NIMH Director’s Statement: Our Commitment to Ending Structural Racism in Biomedical Research

Institute Update

I stand with NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and his commitment to dismantling structural racism in biomedical research (read the full statement ). Structural racism has a profound negative impact on public health and permeates systems and institutions throughout the country. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is no exception, and I recognize that change is long overdue. We must directly dismantle policies and practices that harm our workforce and our science. 

In his statement, Dr. Collins discusses UNITE , a new initiative that is already beginning to identify short-term and long-term actions to address structural racism at NIH, the institutions that NIH supports, and anywhere NIH research activities take place. You may have also recently heard about the NIH Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) Program, which provides institutional support to encourage the recruitment of diverse cohorts of early-stage research faculty. These are just a couple of examples of change taking place at the NIH level, and you can learn more about NIH’s efforts on the newly launched NIH webpage on Ending Structural Racism .

Change is also underway at NIMH. We are taking steps to ensure that NIMH extramural processes, which support researchers across the country, respond to the needs of all Americans. At NIMH, we are examining the composition of our applicant and awardee pool. In the spirit of transparency, we will make these data publicly available to hold ourselves accountable and search for ways to promote opportunity and equity. To that end, we are carefully looking out our decision-making processes to ensure that they are fair and focused on promoting inclusivity. Moreover, we are actively working with the NIMH review branch and plan to join NIH Center for Scientific Review’s ongoing efforts to identify and eliminate any potential systemic biases that could lead to disparities in grant application scores. We’re also continuing to expand training, mentoring, and advancement opportunities for basic, translational, and clinical researchers from diverse backgrounds who can provide broad and unique perspectives to pressing research questions. And we’re holding ongoing conversations with NIMH applicants and grantees to identify other areas where we can make a difference. I’ve written about some of these and other strategies in my Director’s Messages, and I will continue to post updates as we make progress.

It’s also essential that we recognize that change starts at home. Accordingly, we are working to ensure that NIMH is a diverse, equitable, and inclusive professional home for everyone. This past June, NIMH established an employee-led Antiracism Task Force charged with advising leadership on strategies to identify and address racism at NIMH. Their tasks include establishing a set of core values, developing a plan for engaging with staff and learning from their experiences, and proposing a series of concrete actions NIMH can take to address systemic racism within the Institute. In the coming weeks, the Task Force will present its recommendations to NIMH staff and leadership. I want to thank the Task Force members for their important contributions and for helping lay the foundation of our antiracism efforts at NIMH.

At NIMH, our mission is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure. We cannot achieve this mission without prioritizing and promoting diversity in our science and our scientific workforce. Diversity in the biomedical research workforce spurs collaboration and innovation, improves the quality of research, and increases the likelihood that research outcomes will benefit everyone.

I urge everyone to read Dr. Collins’s statement  and provide advice and guidance from your perspective via the Request for Information (RFI)  issued today and open through April 9, 2021.

Join us in bringing discoveries, health, and hope to everyone.

Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of NIMH