Promoting Social Justice in Academic Institutions

As part of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education‘s Advancing Health and Social Justice Web Series, Dr. Faith Fletcher and Dr. Jonathon Rendina led a panel last week (Wednesday, September 9th) on “Promoting Social Justice in Academic Institutions,” moderated by Fordham’s Dr. Selin Gulgoz, assistant professor of psychology. Both Drs. Fletcher and Rendina are alumni of Fordham’s HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute, which is directed by Dr. Celia Fisher.

Part 1: Dr. Jonathan Rendina
Jonathan Rendina, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor of psychology at the Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the director of the Applied Intersectionality and Minority Stress (AIMS) Lab. The majority of his research focuses on understanding the role of social stress in health from a biopsychosocial perspective. Specifically, it emphasizes the role of intersection of sexual minority stress in driving health disparities for sexual and gender minority populations and the impact of stigma on the health of those with HIV.

Dr. Rendina discussed racial bias in academia and provided recommendations for supporting black and minority students and academics.

The #BlackintheIvory Twitter hashtag was created for Black academics to share their personal experiences and challenges in academia including racism and discrimination. It is important for non-Black academics to use this resource to both raise awareness and stand up for the voices of their peers and colleagues.

How can you support Black students and academics?

  1. Stand up for Black voices in the moment especially when they are pushing back against a norm.
  2. Introduce them to your network and colleagues to help open doors.
  3. Invite them to collaborate for authorship.
  4. Invite them to speak about their work through guest lectures, in seminars, on panels, etc. 
  5. Reflect on the admission and hiring process. Are there patterns? Is it equal?
  6. Compensate people for the time they spend on DEI initiatives for your department. 

Racial Bias in Academia: Standardized Testing

Standardized tests like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) exacerbate racial inequality for the following reasons:

  • The high cost of the test itself and test-prep materials are financial barriers. 
  • Test scores are poor predictors of success in graduate studies.
  • The GRE has inherent gender and racial/ethnic bias. There are substantial differences in the scores between racial/ethnic groups.

To learn more about the research behind racial bias in standardized testing, specifically the GRE, Dr. Rendina recommends visiting Beyond the GRE, a website created by “organizations, academicians, administrators and educational researchers with the goal of developing STEM doctoral admissions procedures that are more effective and inclusive than those that rely on GRE scores.”

Standardized testing often functions as the ‘gateway’ in the application process, even though it is not recommended to be used in this way. Many programs have been striving to make standardized testing as optional due to these issues.

Racial Bias in Academia: NIH Funding 

Based on a recent study published in Science Advances to understand the gap in the rates of R01 funding of Black scientists relative to White scientists, Dr. Rendina highlighted three out of the six factors investigated that contributed to this gap most significantly:

  1. Application Discussion: Whether or not the application made it past the first review to be discussed by reviewers
  2. Impact Score: Score that is assigned when the application does get discussed
  3. Topic Choice:” Areas of research Black scientists propose to study are the least funded areas
    1. Congress decides where NIH allocates funding 

Part 2: Dr. Faith Fletcher
Faith Fletcher, Ph.D, MA, is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at the Birmingham School of Public Health and the Department of Health Behavior. Dr. Fletcher’s research program is aimed at developing and implementing community and clinic based social and behavioral research to reduce HIV-related disparities among African American women. Dr. Fletcher aims to develop ethical strategies to alleviate vulnerability to HIV-related stigma in the healthcare setting and research study engagement. Additionally, she was the 2017 recipient of the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health.

Dr. Fletcher discussed the “minority tax,” the importance of sponsorship, and important anti-racist resources for students and early career academics.

Minority Tax 

Dr. Fletcher defined minority tax as the burden of extra responsibilities placed on minority faculty to achieve diversity. Black and minority faculty carry the burden of institutions’ diversity initiatives and mentorship for other underrepresented minorities (URM). They also experience professional isolationism and face discrimination from colleagues. This tax leads to labels and stereotypes about Black and minority faculty including that they are: 

  • Overextended
  • Overwhelmed
  • Not good with deadlines
  • Always need extensions
  • Too busy to take on anything else
  • Not focused
  • Spread too thin
  • Incompetent

Minority faculty are team-focused and connected so it is often not possible for them to focus on individual scholarship. 


Sponsorship is defined as support by someone appropriately placed in an organization or institution who has significant influence on the decision-making processes or structures, and who is advocating for protecting and fighting for the career advancement of an individual, particularly an early career faculty member or researcher who is a person of color. Unlike a mentor, sponsors exert more direct influence to ensure mentee professional development. Sponsors may risk their reputation to provide their own connections and networks for their “mentee.” Sponsorship has now been extended to faculty and students of color. From her personal experience with sponsors, Dr. Fletcher provides several ways one can act as a sponsor:

  • Leveraging networks, power, and positionality
  • Extending opportunities to URM faculty
  • Promoting the work and expertise of URM faculty
  • Invited manuscripts and lectures
  • #citeblackwomen


To register for the next two panels of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education‘s Advancing Health and Social Justice Web Series on COVID-19 and Justice for Racial & LGBTQ Communities and Ethical Implications of Stigma and Mistrust in Healthcare and Research, please use this Google Doc or visit:

For questions on the series, please email Steven Swartzer, Associate Director of Academic Programs at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s