The term “minority” no longer makes sense in a United States where historically excluded peoples are the majority in many cities. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, by 2055, the United States “will have no racial or ethnic majority group.” When used correctly, the word “minority” is not problematic. However, the term “minority” is often used to refer to a group that is smaller, nonwhite or “other,” rarely specifying race, background, or sexual orientation. Many recklessly use “minority” to group African American, Asian American, Indigenous peoples, Hispanics, Latinos, and immigrants together. The people considered part of “minority groups” are diverse and deserve proper recognition. The worst thing about the word “minority” is that it implies oppression and discrimination, and if too often utilized, will continue to minimize excluded peoples and promote structural racism.
The word “minority” is pervasive throughout the biomedical sciences and commonly refers to ethnic and racial groups that are underrepresented within the biomedical science workforce. However, this concept is non-congruent. For example, most biomedical PhD students nationwide are women and thus are not a numerical “minority.” However, they are still subject to interpersonal and systemic sexism. On the other side, there are questions about the appropriateness of using “minority” for groups that are numerical minorities in the general population but well represented in the biomedical sciences. Additionally, within the biomedical sciences, “minority” is not only a word of othering but is often attached to accomplishments. Many excluded scientists at all levels worry about the diminished impact their accomplishments might have, such as achieving a milestone, earning a scholarship, being nominated for an award, or receiving a grant, if prefaced with the word “minority.” Does this mean their hard-earned accomplishments are somehow less?
The ASCB and the Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) are working hard to change this culture and remove this outdated and harmful word from the Society’s lexicon. The ASCB and MAC believe that many benefits flow from a diverse scientific workforce. Research shows that diverse teams working together and capitalizing on innovative ideas and distinct perspectives outperform homogeneous teams. Scientists and trainees from diverse backgrounds and life experiences that truly represent the national population bring different perspectives, creativity, and individual enterprise to address complex scientific problems. However, for this to happen, one must feel comfortable working in an environment in which they feel seen, heard, fairly supported, and welcomed—not separate. A preference for people we perceive to be like us is a factor limiting inclusion that, in turn, undermines not only the ability to achieve diversity in the workforce but in the professional networking setting as well. For example, a preference for homophily can affect who talks to whom in a department or university or at meetings; who chooses to work with whom; who invites whom to give a talk or to be on a thesis committee. Unfortunately, despite successful outreach, excluded peoples are leaving the sciences early in their careers not because of education, ability, or interest but from lack of inclusion(1). Those who experience lack of inclusion are more likely to report burnout as well as adverse psychological, neural, physiological, and medical outcomes than those who have not.
Therefore, as communities become more diverse, we must evolve our terminology to promote inclusivity rather than inadvertently marginalizing groups that have much to offer in terms of scholarship, perspective, and ensuring that the national population is properly represented.
The ASCB believes that it is essential for all members of our community and beyond to feel secure and welcome within the Society, and for all voices to be respected and heard. The Society’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan thoughtfully outlines a set of recommendations that, if successful, can lead to a more diverse and inclusive environment. The strategic plan is expansive and provides recommendations that focus on increasing the diversity, equity, inclusion ,and recognitions of speakers, awards recipients, authors/editors, Society governance and policy-makers at the Annual Meeting, in membership, partners and volunteers (2). Interestingly, within the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan, the word “minority” is only found in one place: when referencing the Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC). When the MAC officially became an ASCB committee in the mid-1980s, we centered our efforts on increasing the recruitment and participation of “racial and ethnic minorities” to the ASCB. However, in 2022, the word “minority” has become outdated, inaccurate, and potentially harmful. Therefore, the MAC will be removing and replacing the word “minority” in the Committee’s official name. Just because the MAC will be changing its name, it does not mean that it will be changing its focus. The MAC will continue to focus on recruiting excluded peoples from racial and ethnic groups to participate in the ASCB and science as a whole by using all the innovative approaches that we currently do, while still collaborating and standing in solidarity with other ASCB committees and groups, like WICB and LGBTQ+.
While a new committee name has not been decided upon yet, the MAC welcomes any suggestions that you might have to help us and the ASCB create a more inclusive culture and scrub the use of the word “minority” from our vocabulary. Please visit the ASCB Community Online “All Member Community” and the thread titled “Suggestions for a new name for the Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC)” to make your suggestions: https://community.ascb.org/home.
1. D. J. Asai, Race Matters. Cell 181, 754-757 (2020).
2. ASCB. (2022).
About the Author:
Leslie Caromile is an Assistant Professor at the UCONN Health – Center for Vascular Biology.