JEDI Champions hope to improve diversity and inclusion in academia

Stanford awarded 16 postdoctoral scholars the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Champion Award for efforts to advance diversity in academia.

This marks the third year that the award was presented to Stanford postdocs. According to Associate Vice Provost and Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs Sophie Kleppner, out of approximately 2,500 postdocs, 66 were nominated and 16 received the award, which comes with a jacket and certificate.

“It was definitely a surprise,” said developmental biology postdoc Megan Agajanian. “It was really nice to be nominated … and not something I expected.”

Lucy Xie, a postdoc in chemical and systems biology, was nominated last year but won for the first time this year. “I wasn’t expecting that much because last year it was similar work,” Xie said.

Xie studies drug resistance through non-genetic mutation but received the award for her work with the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS), where she builds a support network for international and low-income families in the Bay Area. While the two subjects may seem far apart, Xie finds similarities between them.

“Cells came up with ways to diversify themselves [through mutation], increasing their capacity to survive environmental challenges,” Xie said. “The more diversity you can generate, the higher the probability of survival.”

Xie said science is similar, emphasizing the need for an abundance of voices to move fields forward.

Xie was also a mentor for the Community College Outreach Program (CCOP). CCOP, where Agajanian is the program director, invites community college students into research labs to work under the mentorship of trained Stanford researchers.

“At the end of our internship, we see that students are more engaged in the Stanford community, and we see a massive attitudinal competence shift in the students,” Agajanian said. “They go from, ‘I don’t know if I can be a scientist,’ to ‘Yes, I am a scientist.’”

Agajanian said CCOP not only trains the next generation of scientists but provides Stanford mentors with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) education.

“We see a dramatic increase in [the mentors’] ability to talk about and think about DEI topics and how to actively increase equity and inclusion within different spaces,” Agajanian said.

JEDI Champion Adrian Bacong connects outside students to Stanford through his work with the Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education (CARE).

Bacong invites 24 undergraduates to study the impact of race in medicine with a team of Stanford affiliates who examine the effect of seeing race as a biological rather than social construct. 

“If the goal of a university is to increase knowledge and advance society, then shouldn’t the work of people be toward those who are at the margins?” Bacong asked.

Bacong said many scholars involved with similar work often go unrecognized.

“I know that there’s a lot of people who do a lot of great work related to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion who often aren’t nominated for this work,” Bacong said. “I want to make sure to acknowledge that there’s a lot of work that goes on, especially [by] students of color, students from historically marginalized backgrounds, who do this work or take on a lot of emotional labor for this work, but never get recognized for the type of work that they do.”

Out of the 16 JEDI recipients, only one is in a non-STEM field: Kahdeidra Monét Martin, a postdoc in the Graduate School of Education. 

Kleppner said the “majority of postdocs are in STEM fields, and those in STEM fields tend to be here on average longer than those in, for example, humanities.”

As someone who studies DEI in academia, Martin recognized Stanford’s strides to increase diversity with programs like the IDEAL Provostial Fellows and the PRISM initiative.

However, she wrote that there was potential for growth: “Where I think we can improve is in strengthening the pipeline of diverse students to consider careers as scholars, starting in the undergraduate years.”

“I am particularly concerned about the low number of Black American students like me who do not come from immigrant-origin or mixed immigration families,” Martin wrote. She expressed interest in “initiatives to recruit low- and middle-income Black American, Hmong, Vietnamese and other groups who are harmed by anti-Black model minority logics.”

This sentiment is shared by other JEDI scholars too.

“A few years ago this award didn’t exist and I think it says a lot that it does exist 1697635954. So steps are being made,” Agajanian said. “Before, postdocs who were doing all of this work and all of these incredible things were just going unnoticed. I think it’s really important that they are given some award and they are seen.”

This story has been updated to reflect Kleppner’s full administrative title.


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