Xavier Recognized by NIH for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science

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Contact Info: bwashi15@xula.edu

By Brhea Washington

Xavier University of Louisiana was recently recognized by the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health for their submission, “Intersectional Directions: Faculty Success @XULA” for the NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science. Xavier’s submission was based on the Supporting Transformations, Intersectional Directions to Engender Success (XULA STrIDES) program.

Although Xavier was not one of the grant recipients, the institution’s recognition is a testament to the university’s excellence, considering the size and scope of the winners and other mentions by the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health.

Florastina Payton-Stewart, Ph.D., a driving force behind XULA STrIDES, is also a mentor with Xavier’s Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity initiative (XULA BUILD), Project Pathways. XULA BUILD seeks to expand the growth of students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEM and biomedicine by exposing undergraduate students to research opportunities, mentorships, and graduate programs.

XULA BUILD coincides with XULA STrIDES through its recognition of diversity, aiming to create an equitable, inclusive environment in STEM for African American women and people of color. 

“XULA BUILD aligns with the goal and mission of XULA STrIDES because it has provided a range of diverse opportunities for our faculty, staff, students, and community,” Payton-Stewart said. 

Payton-Stewart emphasizes the impact of BUILD, acknowledging that participation in BUILD resources such as conferences, workshops, and internships helps strengthen STEM and biomedical comprehension for faculty and students. 

“BUILD definitely amplifies who we are as a university through expanding skills, offering opportunities, and providing a sense of belonging in the STEM workforce,” she said. “BUILD allows faculty and staff to expand their professional development and scholarly work. It also provides training and resources that help to equip students with skills and tools necessary to thrive in today’s competitive world.” 

Payton-Stewart spearheaded XULA STrIDES for two years as the Faculty Administrative Fellow for Diversity. In January 2021, she was appointed the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs to continue her work. Payton-Stewart was part of the “Removing barriers to career advancement” segment and recently gave a presentation about the program’s success through the NIH as part of the forum “Effective Approaches to Fostering Faculty Gender Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Celebrating Progress.” 

Rooted in intersectionality theory, XULA STrIDES began in 2017 after Xavier received a National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant to address gender and racial diversity amongst Xavier faculty.

“‘Black’ and ‘woman’ are already two identities. We have to realize that we can’t just view individuals on one identity,” Payton-Stewart said. “We can’t solve a problem by looking at one identity, we have to look at Xavier as a whole to see how to impact faculty ways of life and make sure they are comfortable while positively impacting our students too.” 

To best improve practices for students and faculty, XULA STrIDES utilizes a three-pronged approach that includes coordinating diversity efforts, utilizing evidence-based training for search committees, leaders, and faculty, and strengthening on-campus mentoring and peer networks. 

Data collected by Xavier’s Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support indicates that these practices have significantly impacted faculty diversity, retention, and success. For example, Xavier’s biomedical faculty shows that between 2016 and 2020, the percentage of African American/Black biomedical tenure-track faculty increased from 27% to 56%. 

Xavier’s achievements, growth, and rising reputation have elevated the university to a standard of excellence, resulting in high rankings when compared to other widely recognized universities. Xavier University of Louisiana was the only HBCU recognized.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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