VU graduate students highlight contributions of Black scientists as part of Juneteenth celebration

In honor of this year’s Juneteenth holiday, Vanderbilt University graduate students from the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics created a poster charting key achievements from Black scientists stretching back to 1837.

Luminaries include people like Dr. James McCune Smith, the first African American to obtain a medical degree, as well as Vanderbilt trailblazers like Dr. Levi Watkins, the first Black student who was admitted to, and graduated from, Vanderbilt School of Medicine.

“One of the main themes I saw early on in the physician research was the prejudice and racism these individuals had to endure that their non-Black peers did not have,” said Slavina Goleva, a Ph.D. candidate in the molecular physiology department. “Despite this, these scientists were able to persevere and made significant contributions not only to science, but to society.”

The Juneteenth project—which includes a video in addition to the downloadable poster—is also meant to serve as a charge to continue to push for a more diverse and inclusive workforce within the sciences.

“We need to continue to hear the growing chorus of anti-racism, freedom and justice from every corner of this great land—from doctors, lawyers, laborers, teachers and even in the ivory towers of our country where basic research is taking place,” Dr. André Churchwell, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, said in the video. “We cannot languish in our sanctuaries of science—enclosed and protected from the turbulence occurring in our society. Our voices must be part of the chorus for freedom and liberty, and we must speak, sing and act now.”

To learn more about this project, visit the School of Medicine Basic Sciences website.