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Clinical Center News
Summer 2021

Celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at NIH

Leaders speak out on contributions and concerns

Leighton Chan, Chief of Rehab Medicine
Leighton Chan, Chief of Rehab Medicine

In May, NIH celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. It was a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions these groups have made and to advocate for their equity and safety.

A rather broad term, Asian American and Pacific Islander traditionally refers to those who have origins in the East, Southeast, the Indonesian subcontinent of Asia, as well as the Pacific islands.

During the month of May, several lecture series featured NIH researchers from these locations, including the recent COVID-19 seminar series and the annual Kuan-Teh Jeang Lecture, which honors the life and legacy of the late senior investigator at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. This year's presenter was Dr. Peter Kwong, the chief of the Structural Biology Section for NIAID's Vaccine Research Center which is dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of effective vaccines for human diseases, including the development of an effective HIV-1 vaccine. This year's lecture was titled "On Being an Asian-American Structural Virologist: A Personal Perspective."

NIH also honored its National Academy of Sciences members, Wei Yang (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), Shiv Grewal (National Cancer Institute), Sankar Adhya (NCI), and Kiyoshi Mizuuchi (NIDDK).

"It's important to acknowledge the contributions of these groups," says Caroline Goon, with the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at NIH. She noted that "the rise in hate incidents and crimes against AAPIs, have risen dramatically since March 2020. According to the national tracking organization, Stop AAPI Hate, there have been over 6,600 hate incidents reported to their center."

The White House has responded, and in late May, President Biden re-established the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and charged the Initiative with "driving an ambitious, whole-of-government agenda to advance equity, justice and opportunity" for these communities.

Here at NIH and the Clinical Center, AAPI leaders are paving the way and demonstrating leadership on a daily basis. A recent panel interview was hosted by the NIH Chapter of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council and the NIH EDI Office. It included Dr. Michael Chiang, director of the National Eye Institute, Dr. Rena D'Souza, the director of National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and Dr. Noni Byrnes, director for the Center for Scientific Review.

Dr. Leighton Chan, Chief of the Rehabilitation Medicine Department, spoke with CC News about working in the Clinical Center as an Asian American.

"NIH is a welcoming place that encourages diversity. I applaud leadership's efforts to confront our unconscious biases. But I worry about the rise of violence and rise in racism toward AAPI people in society. The observance of AAPI Heritage Month seems more vital than ever."

- Debbie Accame

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