PDX Spotlight on Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science (AVDS)

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In this post, the spotlight is on The Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science (AVDS), a local advocacy group based at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. As the NSF study referenced above illustrates, representation of all people of color in the sciences remains low. At OHSU, the AVDS was formed to focus on increasing racial diversity in the graduate programs at OHSU. To do this, AVDS supports the recruitment of racially diverse students as well as the retention and success of these students with a dynamic network of faculty, staff, postdocs, and students of color on campus. Women in Science Communications Chair Danielle interviewed two of AVDS’ founders, Letisha Wyatt and Luci Moore. Letisha has a PhD in neuroscience and is now an Assistant Professor and Basic Science Liaison/Research Data Management Librarian based at the OHSU Library. Luci is a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program who studies synaptic transmission and anatomical pathways of the central auditory system. Read on to learn more about how the group was founded, their goals, and how you can get involved.


Danielle: How was AVDS founded?

Letisha: When I arrived at OHSU to work in the Library, I reached out to a bunch of PhD program directors and met Gary Westbrook. We met about science/research and the neuroscience graduate program and then he ended our conversation with “so how do you feel about diversity”. It took me completely by surprise but after another lengthy conversation, I learned that he was on a mission to put people together. He introduced me to Antoinette and we came to the realization that more attention was needed on the subject of Institutional support of a more diverse research community. Antoinette called a meeting of her most passionate buddies (Luci and Kathleen – read about AVDS steering committee members here) and we decided to start by forming a group — and eventually a community on campus that was behind our group’s mission.

Luci: The group was founded to directly address issues of racial inequity in academic research starting with our own community. One part of this is working to change the culture of an institution so that everyone is encouraged to work towards an awareness and practice of active racial inclusion. Another part is to make sure that there are institutional policies in place that support the existence and cultivation of a diverse community.


Danielle: Where have you focused your efforts in the last year?

Letisha: Our efforts this last year has been pretty much putting together a sustainable infrastructure for the group, getting recognized by administrators and graduate programs, and most importantly bringing people together to form a community around visible diversity in science.

Luci: We have focused our efforts on community-building. We want to involve people across races, backgrounds, and positions at OHSU in this discussion so that we can work towards a solution as a community.


Danielle: What are lessons learned or challenges faced from the past year?

Letisha: The challenges we have faced are in gaining traction with folks that may not readily see a need to be involved.

Luci: Some of the largest challenges have been in educating people about the problems that exist. A large portion of the population has not personally experienced discrimination and/or have not been educated about systemic racism, so they see race as a non-issue.

Letisha: Our steering committee and membership is actually quite diverse and our events are a celebration of that. We want everyone to know that they are welcome and to join us but also to engage maybe more than they normally do with some tough topics and conversations (around diversity and inclusion). This is a fine line to walk.

Luci: Some have also felt personally affronted by our attempt to bring race to the table, which speaks to the complexity of this topic and the vastly different perspectives that exist.


Danielle: That’s a real challenge throughout academia, maybe especially in a place like Portland where many white people like to think that they are liberal and therefore don’t participate in systemic racism. When Women in Science was founded as a student group we also experienced push-back. Some of it was around the expectation that students and early career researchers should be happy with what the institution was already doing with respect to bias and sexism in science, but we wanted to focus on early career issues and most faculty and admin were very supportive. We still get occasional push-back from men, along the lines of “that event is not for me”. As we have grown — and our network has expanded, become more diverse, and full of really exciting people — we get less of that. What is your vision for AVDS in one year? In five years?

Letisha: In the next year my vision for AVDS is to build an even larger membership. We try to be very strategic about how we communicate with the community and the types of activities that we do so that they always align with our mission. It would be really rewarding to have name recognition so that when people hear that we are having an event they don’t have any doubts that a large and diverse crowd shows up. We want to see that people value the community that we build. Over time, I would love to see AVDS branch out to communities beyond OHSU and serve as place for underrepresented minority scientists/researchers all over the local region. I have always admired and been inspired by the growth and success of WIS PDX and in many ways AVDS has used WIS as a model (immense thanks to Allison). We hope to be as robust of a resource!


Danielle: It’s always a challenge to identify where are the best places to put effort in order to serve your mission. We congratulate you on all the work you’ve done over the last year or so! Women in Science Portland proudly supports the work of AVDS at OHSU and your mission to focus on recruiting and retaining diverse scientific talent in Portland. Many of our members have academic backgrounds and we have seen first-hand the lack of diversity in academic spaces. We look forward to supporting your events and community as the group grows! Read on for AVDS’ mission and how to reach them:


The Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science (AVDS) focuses on one central mission – to increase visible diversity within the graduate programs at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) by recruiting, retaining, and most importantly, supporting graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, staff, and faculty members from underrepresented backgrounds.

We recognize and reflect the important notion that in order to increase diversity on our campus, we must make targeted, deliberate, and measurable efforts to create an environment that not only welcomes, but encourages a diverse population of people.

In modern science research, academic success and scientific breakthrough rests on our utilization of multifaceted approaches and perspectives. By cultivating visible diversity, we believe that the exposure to a variety of ideas and collective experiences will foster creativity and relationships – enriching our academic environment and strengthen our scientific community as a whole.

Interested in being a part of our steering committee, a department or program liaison, or get involved in some capacity? We are always looking for more people interested in moving forward with our mission! Please e-mail us (a4vdis@ohsu.edu) to get in touch.