"It can't be 'diversity on the side'"

Dr. John Matsui speaks on institutional commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

Oct. 9, 2018

Matsui speaking

Dr. John Matsui used a stark image to help his audience contemplate the state of diversity and inclusion in many academic institutions today: a black and white historic photograph of three bathroom doors labeled "Men, Women and Colored."

In his Sept. 28 OHSU lecture "3 Doors: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion," Dr. Matsui, co-founder and director of the Biology Scholars Program at University of California Berkeley, suggested that at many institutions, despite making progress in diversifying the student body and faculty, students and faculty of color too often experience a lack of access to do, and be recognized for, their best work.

Many institutions express "high macro affirmation," trumpeting values of diversity and inclusion, yet individuals experience "high micro aggression," daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities directed at minority groups that create a hostile environment that saps aspiration, he said. This mixed dynamic leaves the institution in a state of ambiguity regarding its true commitment.

"This is hard work," Dr. Matsui said. "It can't be 'diversity on the side.' There has to be institutional commitment and resources if we're going to move the needle."

View video of his lecture

"Don't impress; just express"

Dr. Matsui's visit was arranged by the OHSU student, postdoc and faculty group Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science (AVDS) and supported by the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the School of Medicine. The goal: to learn from Dr. Matsui's 25-plus years with the Biology Scholars Program, which prepares underserved students to pursue graduate degrees in the sciences through a model of inclusive excellence, and to develop a relationship that could lead to students from his program applying to OHSU.

matsui with students

Sunil Joshi, an M.D./Ph.D. student and member of AVDS who graduated from the Biology Scholars Program, summed up the Berkeley program's approach with the words Dr. Matsui used during Joshi's orientation: "Don't impress; just express." It was an invitation to diverse students to bring all of who they are to their studies, in contrast to the words that Dr. Matsui shared during his OHSU lecture from a Berkeley colleague who told an African American Ph.D. student: "Leave your culture at the door. This is science."

"For me and many others who are the first in our families to pursue college or the daunting task of becoming clinicians or scientists, the Biology Scholars Program made us realize that it is possible to triumph in the face of adversity," Joshi said. "Yes it's hard, but with dedication, mentorship, support, and a collaborative learning environment, it is possible to succeed."

Creating a learning culture

Dr. Matsui's visit included meetings with students and Ph.D. program directors. School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson hosted a coffee for him that included Provost Elena Andresen; Vice Provost Constance Tucker; Senior Vice President for Research Peter Barr-Gillespie; Chief Equity Officer Brian Gibbs; Assistant Chief Equity Officer Leslie Garcia; SoM Senior Associate Dean for Education George Mejicano; Physician Assistant Program Director Glenn Forister, and M.D./Ph.D. Program Director David Jacoby.

Dr. Matsui discussed with OHSU leaders how to scale up an inclusive excellence model so that the institution – not just a single program – becomes the intervention. The group talked about culturally responsive mentoring, including the concept of "mentoring up" in which faculty of color partner with white faculty members to offer insight about what an inclusive and empowering climate can look and feel like, creating an environment of inquiry and learning, not blame and alienation.

"Dr. Matsui is a thoughtful, seasoned and frank person who has a proven track record of success at Berkeley and who came with real examples of approaches that can build a more inclusive community," said Dean Anderson. "I appreciate the dialogue he engaged us in and applaud the Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science for bringing him to campus so that his work can inform our efforts to fully embrace change."

Dr. Matsui applauded OHSU for the work the institution is already doing. View examples of efforts in the School of Medicine, many in collaboration with the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

"Dr. Matsui both affirmed and challenged us to think even more strategically about how we channel resources to improve our climate to support the full participation of all of our students and faculty and to be a place that realizes the best that diversity can bring," said Provost Andresen, who oversees the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Ph.D. students, postdocs and faculty involved in planning his visit were pleased.

"It was great to see how much everyone enjoyed John's visit to OHSU," Joshi said. "I am so happy to see the momentum and energy in faculty, staff, and my fellow peers around how we can continue to work together to make OHSU a more inclusive and supportive learning environment."

matsui with leaders

Photos, from top:

  • "Let's learn from one another," said Dr. John Matsui, Berkeley Biology Scholars Program, at his Sept. 28, 2018, lecture in the OHSU Auditorium. "This is about making institutions better for all."
  • The student, postdoc and faculty group Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science organized Dr. John Matsui's visit including from left, back row, Lucille Moore, Sunil Joshi, Marc Meadows, Allison Schaser, Itallia Pacentine and, front row from left, Antoinette Foster, Dr. Matsui, Eileen Torres and Dr. Letisha Wyatt. (Not pictured, Kathleen Beeson)
  • OHSU and School of Medicine leaders dialogued with Dr. Matsui including back row from left, Leslie Garcia, George Mejicano, Sharon Anderson, David Jacoby, Glenn Forister and, seated, Peter Barr-Gillespie, Elena Andresen and Dr. Matsui. (Not pictured, Brian Gibbs and Constance Tucker)