As a Black immunologist, Kristel Yee Mon, Ph.D. ’20, has had to forge her way in a field that lacks mentors and leaders who look like her.
“The reality is that there aren’t that many immunologists who are Black, especially at the faculty level,” says Yee Mon, a postdoctoral researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine. “The small numbers truly speak to the importance of raising awareness of this small but strong community of immunologists who are engaging in excellent work.”
Now, Black in Immuno, a grassroots movement started by six early-career Black scientists in summer 2020, is mobilizing scientific communities to support and promote Black immunologists. Their efforts are in full swing for Black in Immunology Week, Nov. 22-28, which celebrates and amplifies the work of Black immunologists everywhere.
“The lack of presence of underrepresented scientists has barely registered outside of programs supported by foundations and government agencies to increase the diversity of science,” says Avery August, Ph.D. ’94, vice provost for academic affairs and professor of immunology. “This [year] is the first time I have seen the scientific community, particularly the Black scientific community, organize in such a visible way to say, ‘We are here.’ I give a huge amount of credit to the Black early-career scientists who have taken the leadership in organizing these events, and they have drawn attention to our community leveraging the online presence.”
Moreover, August says, immunology is a field that inherently benefits from diversity. The immune system can respond to almost any pathogen through different receptors, a feature known as antigen diversity. “Here is a system where diversity is the reason it works!” he says.
Lauren Cahoon Roberts is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.