Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Associate Director, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs & Trainee Initiatives, SKI

Yaihara Fortis Santiago, Associate Director, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs & Trainee Initiatives, SKI

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Yaihara Fortis Santiago

“Change requires recognizing your own unconscious bias. For instance, in the sciences, when we are considering people for a position as a student or researcher, we tend to put weight on things that are subjective, like the prestige of the institutions where they studied.

But when two candidates have similar qualifications, giving the edge to an Ivy League education might be shortsighted. To come up with innovative ways to solve questions about cancer and biology, we need a diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and opinions at the table. We need to hear ideas from people who are sometimes marginalized or come from communities different than the majority of researchers.

We also need to recognize some of the unique contributions of faculty from underrepresented populations. Most of them are committed to opening the doors for the generation coming after them. They sacrifice their time and energy to mentor them and take on projects to help diversity. But that comes at a cost. While they are spending time and effort on those initiatives, their white peers are moving up the ladder because all they have to do is focus on their science. We need to better recognize their contributions and reward them.

Overall, I am hopeful about what’s happening at MSK — many people seem to be unlearning old ways of thinking, particularly after the social justice movements in the summer of 2020. People are raising their hands and saying, ‘How can I do better?’ And people’s reactions are constructive instead of defensive.”