Storytelling event amplifies the unique experiences of Black research professionals throughout UF
The event was the first in a series hosted by the CTSI’s Diversity and Cultural Competence Council
Jan. 20, 2021 — It’s a truth that continually motivates those who work to create justice for all members of society: widespread, systematic change begins at the individual level by engaging and influencing hearts and minds, one person at a time.
The UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Diversity and Cultural Competence Council aims to create a just, equitable and comfortable environment for UF research professionals who may be discriminated against by their peers, including but not limited to people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community and the differently abled. In an effort to encourage the individual work needed to create this paradigm shift, the council orchestrated a storytelling event that premiered on YouTube last Thursday and is available to view online.
Tiffany Danielle Chisholm Pineda, research navigator for the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, or CTSI, and chair of the council, said storytelling is a vehicle for change that appeals to listeners by sharing relatable yet unique experiences.
“An individual’s ability to share their experiences, the emotions behind them and their story in their own words can prick someone’s heart in a way that reading an article or attending a training cannot do,” she said. “I’m hoping this event created some introspection. The paradigm shift starts with your ability to face that cognitive dissonance, to face something you may have believed your whole life and then look at things with a different lens and maybe admit you were wrong. A change in culture for research professionals starts with each person making that change for the better.”
The event, which was filmed at Gainesville’s Heartwood Soundstage with help from the local storytelling organization Guts & Glory GNV, opened with reflections from CTSI Director Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D. Emotion flashed across his eyes and mouth as he conveyed his childhood experiences of dealing with both the racism and compassion that humans are capable of. He said the events of the past year have raised the volume on a “societal outcry for the need to address the existence of racial disparities, discrimination and inequity in outcome and opportunity.”
“Confronting these issues has brought to the surface many emotions, as we’ve struggled to find meaningful and productive ways to engage in an exchange on topics that are both deeply personal and often intricately linked to painful historical and contemporary experiences,” Mitchell said. “Grief, anger and sorrow — as well as hope, inspiration and unity — have characterized experiences in this ongoing exchange in our professional and personal lives. This event is a call to listen more deeply, to be present with one another and to invest in each other and our experiences. It’s an opportunity to elevate our shared common values and vision of providing better opportunities for ourselves, our loved ones and those who will come after us.”
Five storytellers from a range of research disciplines within UF shared the moments from their lives that highlighted both their individual worth and the need for change in the culture shared by research professionals. Shantrel Canidate, Ph.D., a social and behavioral scientist and a clinical assistant professor in the UF Department of Epidemiology, spoke of how she balanced being a new mother and completing her postdoctoral work, which included a time-consuming daily commute from her family home in Daytona Beach to Gainesville.
“I watered the road with my tears, doubted my abilities and even contemplated giving up a career in academic research,” she said. “In the end, I knew to have faith over fear. I am the first and only Black faculty member in the epidemiology department at UF. I believe I can help to transcend barriers by navigating and eradicating the everyday struggles associated with becoming a minority researcher in a highly competitive arena such as UF.”
Erica Guerrido, M.P.H., C.P.H., a research and compliance administrator in the Office of Research Affairs at the UF College of Medicine — Jacksonville, is no stranger to microaggressions and insulting questions posed by her research colleagues. Guerrido shared how being told she was hired for a position because of her ethnicity and being referred to as “you folk” didn’t deter her from pursuing and achieving her goals.
“Thank God I never let it stop me, but I will admit, those words and experiences have made me question what I bring to the table, my magic, who I am,” she said. “But those words don’t define me. My place at the table has my name on it. And my seat is sturdy and fit for a queen. It’s not my job to make someone else feel comfortable about themselves by being less of who I am, but it’s my job to help them become better at who they are by being their most authentic self.”
Other speakers included Pineda; Samuel Inkabi, a graduate research assistant in the immunology and microbiology concentration of the UF Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences; and Erika Moore, Ph.D., the inaugural Rhines Rising Star Assistant Professor in the UF Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
Pineda likened her role in the Diversity and Cultural Competence Council to that of an ophthalmologist, helping her greater research community evaluate their lenses so as to see others more clearly, regardless of background or identity. She said this storytelling event is the first of many — the start to a series that will further the cause of creating a less biased and more egalitarian work environment for all researchers.
“I was put in a position to use the intersectionality of my position as a research professional, a woman and a person of color to start to tailor the conversation with research professionals who can implement change for the better,” she said. “We all have a story to tell. Though some of them may have similarities, they are all unique. Evaluate your heart, your thoughts and beliefs that you may have related to certain cultures or ethnicities so that you are not blinded or blocked from the full experience of working with someone from a different culture or ethnicity.”