Engaging the research community in UCSF Anti-Racism Initiative

September 10, 2020

Dear Members of the UCSF Research Community,

In recent weeks, Chancellor Sam Hawgood, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dan Lowenstein, Vice Chancellor Renee Navarro, Deans of the four schools and Graduate Division, and UCSF Health President and CEO Mark Laret have sent messages expressing their commitment to the UCSF Anti-Racism Initiative. On behalf of the UCSF Office of Research, I write to you to highlight some of the important work that is underway and new efforts being developed to address systemic racism in the context of our research enterprise.

Systemic racism, particularly anti-Black racism, is deeply embedded in biomedical and health research in the United States. The infamous Tuskegee syphilis study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks in the development of the HeLa cell line are but two of the most egregious examples. At UCSF, we have not done enough to overcome this legacy and earn the full trust of people of color in our research and scientific programs. Among the ranks of our research faculty, trainees, and staff, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous and Native people remain extremely underrepresented.

The Office of Research is strongly committed to support concrete initiatives aimed at implementing transformational changes in health equity and racial justice in research. I am writing to share information about some of the anti-racism work already being conducted by stakeholders across the UCSF research community that lays the foundation for a comprehensive strategy, and to announce several new actions being launched by the Office of Research and our partners.

Establishment of UCSF Office of Research Task Force on Equity and Anti-Racism in Research

One important new action is establishing a Task Force on Equity and Anti-Racism in Research, reporting to the Vice Chancellor of Research, with an initial remit to focus on anti-Black racism. The core leadership of the task force will consist of faculty members instrumental in developing a Proposal for the UCSF Research Response to Racism, presented to me, EVCP Lowenstein, and other campus leaders on August 3:

  • Malcolm John, MD, MPH (School of Medicine and Health Equity Council, UCSF Health)
  • Monica McLemore, RN, PhD, FAAN (School of Nursing)
  • Tung Nguyen, MD (School of Medicine and Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI))
  • Jason Sello, PhD (School of Pharmacy and UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach)
  • George Taylor, DMD, MPH, DrPH (School of Dentistry)

I am in the process of identifying additional individuals to serve on the task force, to ensure representation of other key sectors, such as the Graduate Division, basic science programs, staff, trainees, and community members.

The task force will steward implementation of recommendations for immediate action from the Proposal for the UCSF Research Response to Racism; develop a plan to vet, refine, and address the 6- and 12-month recommendations; and work on behalf of the Office of Research to align and create synergy among the many activities tackling equity and anti-racism that are in process within the UCSF research community and broader campus.

Aligning diverse activities and efforts

Examples of existing activities within the research enterprise include:

  • The interdepartmental basic science committee for faculty recruitment formed two years ago by eight basic science departments in three schools, which has made meaningful progress in successful recruitment of scientists from underrepresented groups;
  • Intensified anti-racism programs in the Graduate Division including curricular reforms, professional development, and increased recruitment of graduate students and postdocs from underrepresented groups;
  • The efforts of the Differences Matter Research Action Group for Equity (RAGE) to increase the diversity of our scientific workforce and research participants;
  • The Accelerating Systematic Stakeholder, Patient, and Institutional Research Engagement (ASPIRE) project collaborating with the CTSI Community Engagement Program to strengthen the role of Black community members and other communities of color in the design and conduct of research, including recently establishing a UCSF-wide COVID-19 Research Patient and Community Advisory Board (PCAB); and
  • Several initiatives underway by the Precision Medicine Platform Committee, Population Health and Health Equity Program, student groups, and others to scrutinize the misuse of racial classifications in research and promote understanding of race as a social construct that has important biological and clinical consequences.

In addition to considering how to best align these many valuable existing activities in the research enterprise, the task force will facilitate coordination with Vice Chancellor Navarro and campuswide programs from the Office of Diversity and Outreach and Center for Community Engagement’s Anchor Institution Initiative.

Implementing two immediate task force recommendations

The following steps are being taken to implement two of the recommendations for immediate action:

Pilot funding for research directly addressing systemic racism and police violence
The CTSI is dedicating funding to support pilot studies investigating racism and its effects on health, including issues such as the impact of police killings of Black people on community wellbeing. We are in conversation with other intramural funding sources to generate matching funds for this pilot program.

Implementing the engagement of racially and ethnically diverse patient and community advisory boards as an expectation for all COVID-19 clinical and population health research

Profound inequities in the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on communities of color and low-income communities and the current underrepresentation of people of color in COVID-19 research make it essential to engage community members as partners in the conduct of COVID-19 research to achieve scientific validity and impact. Although many UCSF researchers have successfully adopted participatory models for COVID-19 studies, the Office of Research is affirming an expectation for community engagement in all UCSF COVID-19 clinical and population research. To make the right thing to do the easy thing to do, CTSI is augmenting funding for the UCSF COVID-19 Patient and Community Advisory Board to ensure capacity for prompt, free consultations for all COVID-19 clinical and population research studies that do not already have a study-specific community advisory group (request a PCAB consultation online and click the orange box). The UCSF Human Research Protection Program will be adding an item for protocol submissions asking about community engagement plans and if assistance is needed. We are starting by setting an expectation for patient and community engagement in COVID-19 related research, with a vision of soon extending this expectation to all clinical and population research.

We will communicate about additional future actions as the task force works with the Office of Research to refine and implement additional strategic action plans. We know that this is just the beginning of our work, and that we must invest in sustained, systemic efforts to achieve our goal of dismantling structural racism.


Lindsey A. Criswell, MD, MPH, DSc
Vice Chancellor of Research