The Department of Neurology has elected three Co-Chairs to lead its Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI): Dr. Kunal Desai, MD (Faculty Co-Chair), Dr. LaShae Nicholson, PhD (Staff C-Chair), and Dr. Razaz Mageid, MD (Trainee Co-Chair).
The CDI was formed by the Department after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in June and the nationwide, anti-racism protests that followed. Utilizing a multipronged approach, its three sub-committees – Education, Recruitment and Retention, and Community Outreach – will work synergistically to eliminate barriers to success that have disproportionately affected minority staff, faculty, and trainees. Together, the Co-Chairs will oversee the CDI’s overall progress in building a more diverse and inclusive culture.
As candidates, the Co-Chairs self-nominated and submitted personal statements that explained why they were inspired to run for the role and what made them uniquely positioned to lead. They were subsequently elected by members of the department via an online survey.
The lived experiences of Drs. Desai, Nicholson, and Mageid have shaped their perspectives surrounding diversity and inclusion and will serve them well as they manage the CDI.
The grandson of Indian Independence activists, Dr. Desai learned to speak out and serve others from an early age. He protested hate crimes and advocated for LGBTQ rights at Boston College, and since medical school at Creighton University, he has worked to increase healthcare access for underprivileged children and families. His ultimate, motivation, he says, is his daughter.
“I am now looking to create a more inclusive environment for the next generation, so that people like my daughter – who is half brown, half white, half Indian, half American, half Catholic, half Hindu – do not have to grow up in a segregated and divisive society.”
Sudan-born Dr. Mageid shares this commitment to diversity and equal opportunity. She recognized the growing need to address racial disparities as an undergraduate at MIT and served on the board of programs that advocated for minorities. She remained interested in public and global health at Tufts University School of Medicine and continues to pursue these passions as a fourth-year resident at Yale and as Trainee Co-Chair.
Having completed her undergraduate education in the United States and completed both her Masters and PhD in Germany, Dr. Nicholson comes to this role with a global perspective. She also noted several challenges that she has faced as a minority and first-generation college student.
“I have experienced firsthand the consequences that the lack of diversity and minority representation in science brings. I know what it’s like to work harder in the absence of guidance, to work without support or recognition, and having to actively seek out alternative sources for mentorship and career advice.”
This firsthand experience drives Dr. Nicholson to mentor and advocate for underrepresented minorities.
In June, the Department held a virtual town hall meeting with Dr. Darin Latimore, MD, Deputy Dean and Chief Diversity Officer, to discuss how it can improve its approach to diversity. All Co-Chairs think the town hall was a productive first step towards fighting discrimination and lack of opportunity for minorities, as well as a forum for members of the Department to speak candidly about their encounters with prejudice and microaggressions.
Despite laying the foundation for real change, the town hall exposed the Department’s shortcomings regarding diversity.
“[The town hall] demonstrated that there are gaps of knowledge regarding diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism within the department,” Dr. Mageid noted.
“We in the Department of Neurology have to continue to build upon the momentum generated by that discussion to create real change…[and] we must foster a work environment where people of all backgrounds feel comfortable – one where merit becomes the sole force behind achievement, and one without barriers or ceilings to accomplishment,” added Dr. Desai.
Following the town hall, the Co-Chairs agreed that the formation of the CDI was a good first step towards fighting discrimination, but that working towards a more diverse and inclusive environment has to remain a top priority and a team effort, complete with realistic goal-setting.
They will play a crucial role in ensuring that the sub-committees – each part of a cohesive unit – live up to their respective role as part of a welcoming culture.
“I would want discussions about anti-racism or gender identity discrimination…to be nearly as comfortable as discussing neuroanatomy,” said Dr. Mageid.
To simplify these difficult discussions, she advocates for training sessions that address such topics as microaggressions, mentoring, and anti-racism so that members of the department can be better prepared to confront these issues.
The Co-Chairs all emphasize increased leadership opportunities for minorities as a main priority. Accountability for department leaders – as well as all members across the department – will be an especially crucial tool in combating bias and eliminating power dynamics that often prevent honest conversations about discrimination.
“I hope to create a forum where open dialogue about diversity can be had amongst peers,” said Dr. Desai.
Dr. Nicholson describes how representation in leadership and investment in the success of minorities will ultimately make the Department an inclusive place to work, study, and teach.
“I hope the new CDI committees will strive to create an attractive environment where minorities can not alone just be supported, but also thrive…heard, not just seen.”