The National Institutes of Health Stands Against Racism in Biomedical Research
Although addressing the COVID-19 pandemic has been front and center for NIH over the past year, we have not forgotten another significant challenge confronting the health of our nation — systemic and structural racism. The events of 2020 highlighted the reality of our nation’s racial injustices that have been allowed to endure over four centuries and that significantly disadvantage the lives of so many. The time for upholding our values and taking an active stance against racism, in all its insidious forms, is long overdue.
As a science agency, we know that bringing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets to complex scientific problems enhances scientific productivity. NIH has long supported programs to improve the diversity of the scientific workforce with the goal of harnessing the complete intellectual capital of the nation. These efforts, however, have not been sufficient. To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry. NIH is committed to instituting new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identifying and dismantling any policies and practices that may harm our workforce and our science.
Toward that end, NIH has launched an effort to end structural racism and racial inequities in biomedical research through a new initiative called UNITE, which has already begun to identify short-term and long-term actions. The UNITE initiative’s efforts are being informed by five committees with experts across all 27 NIH institutes and centers who are passionate about racial diversity, equity, and inclusion. NIH also is seeking advice and guidance from outside of the agency through the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), informed by the ACD Working Group on Diversity, and through a Request for Information (RFI) issued today seeking input from the public and stakeholder organizations. The RFI is open through April 9, 2021, and responses to the RFI will be made publicly available. You can learn more about NIH’s efforts, actions, policies, and procedures via a newly launched NIH webpage on Ending Structural Racism aimed at increasing our transparency on this important issue.
We cannot underestimate the challenges before us. Identifying and dismantling racist components of a system that has been hundreds of years in the making is no easy task. This is just the beginning of an effort that has a concrete goal of achieving racial equity but has no scheduled end point. Our intention is to apply what we learn from this initiative to all future actions centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion for other groups who have been marginalized. Our resolve must be unflinching – it must not waver in the face of difficulties or tire at the magnitude of the problem. I have faith that as a people and as an enterprise, we are up to the task. We are reliable, capable, and resilient because of our many races, ethnicities, cultures, faiths, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, abilities, talents, and backgrounds. Collectively, our diversification fuels our creativity and drives innovation.
At the most fundamental level, the NIH mission is about the respect of human life and dignity, which should permeate all aspects of our lives and work. The National Institutes of Health is also known as the National Institutes of Hope. With optimism, I invite you to join NIH in our efforts to bring health and hope to all people — because together we’re stronger.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health