Second annual program honors Juneteenth by recommitting to representation, Principles of Community
Fralin Biomedical Research Institute scientists and staff work toward racial equality in the biomedical sciences.
Erin Lynch, president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Quality Education for Minorities Network, has a bias toward action.
Lynch works with organizations nationwide to help improve education of minorities, particularly in STEM. Her talk, "To Remain Quietly No Longer: Celebrating Blacks in Biomedical Sciences," kicks off the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC’s recognition of Juneteenth.
Lynch, who holds a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction, is the featured speaker for the June 20 program, Creating Local Change in Celebration of Current and Future Black Scientists.
The title is inspired by events that occurred in Texas more than two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in Confederate states free but lacked the power of enforcement. It was not until June 19, 1865, that U.S. Army troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to announce through General Order No. 3 that Black Texans were freed. It signaled there would be more work ahead to achieve equality, however, as its closing language said “freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages.”
“As an inclusive scientific community, it is crucial for us to recognize and honor Juneteenth, a pivotal moment in American history. It also symbolizes the ongoing struggle for equality,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech vice president for health sciences and technology. “Juneteenth serves as a reminder that the pursuit of knowledge must go hand in hand with the pursuit of equality, ensuring that scientific progress is informed by all and accessible and beneficial to all.”
The June 20 program, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the Roanoke campus, also includes Michele Deramo, associate vice provost for diversity education and engagement, who will address allyship. Archie Freeman III, longtime educator and chief academic officer for Roanoke City Public Schools, will share a community perspective on the education pipeline.
Virginia Tech named Juneteenth a permanent university holiday in 2022 and encouraged people to use the day to celebrate, reflect, and recommit to the Principles of Community. Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC faculty, researchers, and staff organized the June 20 event to encourage a deeper understanding of history and actively plan for racial equality in the biomedical sciences.
In a 2023 report titled “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities,” the National Science Foundation noted that Black workers represented 9 percent of the STEM workforce in 2021. Black students represented 9.6 percent of master’s degree programs and 6 percent of doctoral programs in science and engineering.
“Our goal is to come away with actionable steps toward being a campus that is not only representative, but also inclusive, welcoming, and supportive,” said Leanna Blevins, assistant vice president for Health Sciences Education and Student Affairs. “What’s important about this initiative is that it is being planned and driven from people across the Roanoke campus seeking to be a part of positive change by putting structure and actions around our diversity goals.”
Organizers put together a program that focuses faculty, staff, researchers, students and interested community members around the goal of increasing the Black community’s representation in the institute’s research. Better representation is one of Virginia Tech’s stated goals: The university is committed to increasing the number of underrepresented minority graduate and professional students, academic faculty, and administrative and professional faculty.
Lynch’s research is in strategic planning and program development, including educational assessment and evaluation and systems change in equity centeredness. Before joining the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, she was associate provost of scholarship, research, and innovation and dean of the graduate school at Winston-Salem State University, a North Carolina historically Black university.
As a researcher, she has been funded in intervention development for historically marginalized minority groups and adult learners. Her work helps address inequity by providing empirical information to help quantify and give validity to lived experiences.