Toward achieving racial equity in research: progress and next steps

Toward achieving racial equity in research: progress and next steps

By Elizabeth "Betsy" CantwellResearch, Innovation & Impact
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Betsy Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation, will discuss racial equity in research during "Convo with Cantwell" on Sept. 27.
Betsy Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation, will discuss racial equity in research during "Convo with Cantwell" on Sept. 27.
Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation
Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation

Collectively, the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in May and June 2020 became a watershed moment for our nation's understanding of structural racism – a moment during which we grieved the tragic loss of Black lives and mobilized for justice.

In the wake of these events, individuals and institutions, including universities, sought to recognize, understand and dismantle systems of racial injustice woven through every aspect of their mindsets and processes. The University of Arizona was no exception.

On June 10, 2020, I wrote to the Office of Research, Innovation & Impact community to make clear I would take steps over the next year to work toward creating a more equitable environment in STEM. With a deep and pressing sense of responsibility, RII expanded its commitment to anti-racist programming and resources, seeking meaningful outcomes to move us forward in addressing racial equity in research.

By July 8, we had hosted the first of four hourlong virtual "Achieving Racial Equity in Research" workshops for faculty, staff and graduate students. Roughly 300 members of the campus community generously gave their time and energy to discuss a range of topics, including cultural taxation, data-driven solutions, promotion and tenure, systems of accountability and more. These were frank, fruitful conversations for which I remain grateful, recognizing the vulnerability they required of all who participated.

The experiences and potential solutions that were shared provided a framework for change within RII and in units and colleges across campus. While our work is far from done, I would like to report some highlights in our progress toward racial equity between July 2020 and July 2021. We also plan a discussion centered on this update in the "Convo with Cantwell" on Sept. 27.

New mentoring initiatives have been launched

RII and the Office of the Provost provided initial funding to establish a UA Mentoring Institute, led by Andrea Romero, vice provost for faculty affairs. Four subgroups have been established, including committees dedicated to the search for an assistant director of faculty mentoring initiatives, creating peer-to-peer communities and compiling mentoring resources.

Sonja Lanehart, professor of linguistics, developed a faculty-to-faculty mentoring program, funded by the Graduate College, specifically pairing faculty members who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color with non-BIPOC faculty members to receive training and enter a learning community around inclusive mentoring.

Additionally, RII's STEM Learning Center, in collaboration with the College of Education and Pima Community College, has developed an inclusive mentor training program that is being piloted through a National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program grant and is now working with the second faculty cohort.

Next steps: Mentoring best practices training is being developed and will be available on EDGE Learning by December. RII's Societal Impacts office, in collaboration with the new Mentoring Institute, is creating a survey to deploy to academic departments to better understand current mentoring practices and policies. Societal Impacts also is completing a mentoring resource landscape analysis to document mentoring resources across campus.

Sponsored Projects and Contracting Services will enable new "flags" for grant proposals

The flags will allow users to track submissions and awards that are specific to Hispanic-Serving Institutions, include resources and activities towards diversity, equity and inclusion, and/or include an industry or community partner.

As we transition to a new proposal routing system, the new flags will be integrated into the process. This additional data on awarded projects with DEI commitments will allow RII to identify those funded projects that are applicable and provide additional training and support at the institutional level. Those involved in awarded projects with community partners will be encouraged to participate in additional trainings for working equitably with partners.

New internal seed funds have been established

The RII Racial Equity in Research challenge grant seeds new collaborations and activities that have the potential to offer transformative advancements and engage with innovative thinking around the topic of racial equity in research. Thus far, there have been four REIR grants submitted and awarded for a total of $252,596. The RII HSI Faculty Seed Grant supports scholarly research and creative work among faculty who enrich the University's designation as an HSI, advances scholarship that directly impacts BIPOC populations, and aligns with the University's Purpose and Values. Forty-three proposals were submitted and reviewed by 18 faculty members. The tremendous response and quality of the projects led RII to add an additional $25,000 to the funding source in order to fund seven projects, totaling $123,875.

Next steps: RII is developing a fellowship opportunity for BIPOC faculty to provide training, support and a learning community around research development and writing competitive proposals. Additional challenge grant opportunities will be released this fiscal year.

Campuswide results stemming from last summer's virtual workshops

  • The University now offers more inclusive ethnicity reporting options for students, staff and faculty. A new ethnicity data category will capture and identify each response when someone identifies as "more than one race or ethnicity." Gender self-identification for students will be available this fall. In the coming months, University Analytics and Institutional Research will conduct trainings for staff who use these analytics.
  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, part of the Office of the Provost, is developing and will implement online DEI training for students this fall and for the larger campus community by January. All funded researchers will be required to take this training prior to release of funds.
  • When submitting for promotions and tenure, faculty are now required to include a table that quantifies their mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral researchers.
  • A Promotion and Tenure Criteria Committee has been created and will begin meeting in fall 2022 to review and update current University-level criteria in order to be aligned with peer institutions' practices for equity, innovation, entrepreneurship, open access, HSI status and more.
  • A historically black colleges and universities liaison will join the provost's team to lead efforts toward establishing meaningful partnerships with HBCU institutions.
  • Marketing & Brand Management developed institutional cultural logos to represent the expression or celebration of the Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American, Black, Native American and Hispanic communities.
  • The University crafted an updated institutional land acknowledgement in consultation with leaders of the Tohono O'odham Nation and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and with Native American scholars on campus. The full statement reads: We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O'odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service.
  • Instituted in 2016 by the Arizona Board of Regents, the ABOR 1-118 Tribal Consultation Policy recognizes fundamental principles of tribal sovereignty, consultation and respect, and outlines requirements when engaging with Native American nations. The policy requires that all human and nonhuman research projects, including both unfunded and funded sponsored projects, University of Arizona Foundation initiatives, contracts, intra-university agreements and other instruments related to tribal engagement be supported by documented evidence of consultation and approval. In 2018, RII adopted "Guidelines for Research & Institutional Engagement" for conducting respectful, ethical research and institutional engagements with Native American nations. These documents, and information on training resources, can be accessed on the new Native American Advancement, Initiatives & Research web portal.

As we continue to take steps toward measurable changes in racial equity, I encourage University staff, faculty and students to be active participants in that process. To learn more about RII's efforts to address racism in research, please visit

Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell is senior vice president for research and innovation and leads the Office of Research, Innovation and Impact, which includes Corporate Engagement Services, Tech Launch Arizona, Arizona FORGE and the University of Arizona research parks. She joined the University of Arizona in 2019.

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