Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s ongoing reckoning with systemic racism have brought increased attention to how racism impacts all aspects of society. From who has access to quality health care to how you’re treated once you reach a health care setting, racism has led to entrenched health disparities that have plagued this nation since its founding. As more conversations are held to discuss what STEM leaders can do to alleviate and prevent the burden of persistent health disparities in the U.S., the NSTMF seeks to share these conversations with STEM students and leaders through its STEM Spotlight series, in the hopes of providing inspiring models for the health and science leaders of tomorrow.
Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, activist Johnnie Jae, journalist, speaker, and founder of a Tribe Called Geek, and Phill Wilson, vice-chair for the Foundation for the AIDS Monument in West Hollywood, and a trustee for amfAR have all made their mark in their respective STEM fields by using their talents to bring attention to the inequities facing their communities. The group came together to discuss healthcare disparities along racial and ethnic lines, what governments and communities can do to help, and how students can get involved.
Motivated by their own experiences in the medical system and imperatives within their communities, all three individuals have forged paths that allow them to blend their work in STEM with activism.
For Jae, the need to see more Indigenous representation in STEM and pop culture was a major driving force, but also the persistent health disparities she saw in her community. “The autoimmune disorders that we face in Indian Country can often be tied back to the forced removal of Indigenous people from their traditional homelands, their food sources, and a lot of environmental factors,” said Jae.