Community Engagement Vital to New Core Dedicated to Equity in Research

May 19, 2021

 Keisha Bentley-Edwards, PhD; Dane Whicker, PhD; and Sabrena Mervin-Blake.
Members of the EIR core leadership team (from left): Keisha Bentley-Edwards, PhD; Dane Whicker, PhD; and Sabrena Mervin-Blake.

The Equity in Research (EIR) core at the Duke Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTSI) is working to identify and anticipate community barriers to access, while creating sustainable and enduring change throughout the research enterprise at Duke.

Community engagement is a crucial part of the work of EIR, which supports the new Duke CTSI Center for Equity in Research.

“We need to engage the community members’ perspective within our research. Their voices need to be heard,” said Dane Whicker, PhD, co-director of EIR. “We need to bring down the ivory tower and make people feel welcome by building trust and making genuine connections and relationships.”

CTSI launched the core in the spring of 2020 at a pivotal time for Duke, the broader community, and the nation overall — a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and racial reckoning converged to reveal in new and profound ways longstanding issues of inequity and inaccessibility.

“People are talking about where we have been and where we are going,” said Keisha Bentley-Edwards, PhD, co-director of EIR. “It’s important to identify barriers to access, but also then to come up with practical solutions to eliminate those barriers.

“Those are some of the ongoing conversations that are happening across CTSA cores. We need a combination of awareness, reflection, and action.”

The core, as well as the new Center for Equity in Research that it supports, provide strategic leadership and expertise for anti-bias, anti-racism and equity training programs, resources, services, and tools to support established research investigators, trainees, and research teams as they integrate an equity framework in all aspects of the research process. This includes developing and sustaining demographically diverse research teams to maximize the impact.

That impact will become evident not only in more equitable research, but also in relationship building within CTSI and beyond, with the community as a whole, said Sabrena Mervin-Blake, staff director for both EIR and the Community Engagement core, also part of CTSI. The work comes as Duke Health and CTSI have committed to dismantling racism in health care and addressing health inequities.

“We look forward to working together with our community in authentic, mutually beneficial, bidirectional ways toward the goal of health equity,” Mervin-Blake said.

This article is part of a series exploring equity, anti-bias, and anti-racism efforts at Duke CTSI over the next year.