The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) at the University of Minnesota stands in solidarity with those condemning systematic racism and inequalities faced by the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and other underrepresented communities. Through our programs, OUR provides opportunities for all undergraduate students to directly engage in groundbreaking research in the hopes of creating a more dynamic and inclusive world. Our unit is based on a commitment to fostering supportive and respectful environments for undergraduate researchers to thrive. Towards this end, we pledge to continue to collaborate with the University of Minnesota community, particularly the faculty and students in our programs, to engage more fully in anti-racist practices throughout our work in undergraduate research.
The path towards growing more anti-racist must begin by acknowledging the history of research and its role in contributing directly and indirectly to the systematic racism and related inequalities we seek to combat today. While research is often intended to improve lives, there are countless examples of research causing great harm in the name of discovery. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study1 from 1932 to 1972 and the scientific use of Henrietta Lacks's2 cells without consent are just two examples that expose entrenched racism and bias within research practices. This damaging legacy continues today.3 OUR acknowledges the entrenched history of harmful practices in research and commits to continue to work with the University of Minnesota ethics oversight and compliance bodies4 to ensure undergraduates complete appropriate training and are involved in ethical research projects.
Studies5 have shown racism and other biases occur in current research environments, including in the ways faculty members mentor students6. OUR works with faculty mentors to provide supportive environments for undergraduate student research involvement. Hundreds of University of Minnesota faculty have developed deep bonds with undergraduate researchers through OUR programs. We seek to continue to encourage best mentoring practices, provide a sounding board for students and faculty alike, and refer researchers to appropriate UMN resources7 to address issues with mentoring relationships.
The Council on Undergraduate Research8 (CUR) has taken steps to address racism and broaden access to and involvement in undergraduate research. At the University of Minnesota, a primarily white institution, we join in CUR’s pledge to continue to recruit those from BIPOC communities and other underrepresented groups to participate in our programs through partnerships with various student-serving offices and student groups. We do specific outreach to student groups representing under-resourced students, and are always looking for ways to increase our engagement. In particular, we offer a specific programmatic opportunity to Black and other undergraduate researchers of color through our Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program9. We plan to continue to evaluate MSROP and all our research opportunities programs systematically, while incorporating significant student input. Involving undergraduate students in our evaluation, particularly those typically ignored, will help us respond to areas of concern and increase participation in undergraduate research more effectively.
Finally, we acknowledge the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is located on traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of Indigenous people. The University resides on Dakota land ceded in the Treaties of 1837 and 1851. The Office of Undergraduate Research acknowledges this place has a complex and layered history. This land acknowledgment is one of the ways in which we work to educate the campus and community about this land and our relationships with it and each other. The Office of Undergraduate Research is committed to ongoing efforts to recognize, support, and advocate for Native American Nations and people.
We, at the Office of Undergraduate Research, realize this statement is a single step to combat systematic racism in undergraduate research, in our University of Minnesota community, and across society, but it reflects our firm and lasting commitment to engage more fully in issues regarding anti-racist practices going forward.
1 Center for Disease Control. (2020). Tuskegee Study - Timeline - CDC - NCHHSTP. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
2 Butanis, B. (2020). The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/henriettalacks/
3 Skibba, R. (2019). The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/disturbing-resilience-scientific-racism-180972243/
4 Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) Ethics and Compliance https://research.umn.edu/oversight-compliance/overview
5 Simundic, A. (2013). Bias in research. Biochemia Medica, (23)12-15, 10.11613/BM.2013.003.
6 Aikens, M. L., Robertson, M. M., Sadselia, S., Watkins, K., Evans, M., Runyon, C. R., Eby, L. T., & Dolan, E. L. (2017). Race and Gender Differences in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Structures and Research Outcomes. CBE life sciences education, 16(2), ar34. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-07-0211
7 Student Conflict Resolution Center http://www.sos.umn.edu/
8 CUR - The Council on Undergraduate Research. (2020). Diversity and Inclusion Committee Statement. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.cur.org/diversity_and_inclusion_committee_statement/
9 Multicultural Summer Research Opportunities Program (MSROP) https://ugresearch.umn.edu/opportunities/msrop