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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt LGBTQ+ Policy Lab wins inaugural NIH DEIA prize

The prize comes with a $100,000 award and the opportunity to present at NIH DEIA prize symposium
Entrance+of+the+newly+renovated+Center+for+Research+on+Inequality+and+Health+at+Buttrick+Hall%2C+as+photographed+on+Sept.+13%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FNikita+Rohila%29
Nikita Rohila
Entrance of the newly renovated Center for Research on Inequality and Health at Buttrick Hall, as photographed on Sept. 13, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila)

Vanderbilt’s LGBTQ+ Policy Lab, housed in the Department of Medicine, Health and Society, was recognized as one of 10 awardees of the inaugural National Institutes of Health Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility prize. Accompanying the prize is a $100,000 award and the opportunity to present their work at the NIH DEIA prize symposium in June 2024. 

The NIH DEIA prize is meant to recognize academic institutions that “create cultures of inclusive excellence” and add to DEIA initiatives in the natural and social sciences. Other recognized institutions include California State University San Marcos, Duke University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University at Buffalo, University of California Davis, University of California San Francisco, University of Florida, University of Illinois Chicago and University of Puerto Rico. 

“This was the first time they ran this prize, so we really didn’t know what to expect. Of course, we were hopeful, but we didn’t have a format and we hadn’t seen what they were looking for,” Tara McKay, associate director of the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab, said. “But I saw the applications, and I thought we had a really good chance. It was just a really great day when we got the notification that we were going to be awarded this award.”

The LGBTQ+ Policy Lab aims to advance research about sexual and gender minority individuals and advocate for SGM inclusion efforts. In addition, they hope to improve training and retention of academics in this field of research and provide research opportunities for undergraduate and high school students. 

“We see big barriers for queer folks in STEM in particular. There are also other things, like a very high burden of student loan debt among folks that are trying to continue in this space,” McKay said. “Many folks encounter barriers related to accessing funding, having your publications be valued and the work that you do be valued right in your broader academic space. All of those things can be really challenging.” 

McKay noted there were few formal labs dedicated to SGM research prior to the lab’s creation in 2017. Many research topics under this category faced a lack of institutional support and limited job security, which caused SGM researchers to leave research careers. 

“What we often see is that folks want to work with these populations or want to focus their research on LGBTQ health but feel like they have to do something else to pay the bills or get tenure or get funding,” McKay said. “And so we try to provide ways to just make sure that their work is really going to stand up to multiple audiences, including their discipline audience, as rigorous and as important and so on. That is where we’ve focused a lot.” 

Of the nine award winners, the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab was the only winner that addressed the LGBTQ+ community. Gilbert Gonzales, associate director of the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab, added that Vanderbilt’s is the only lab dedicated to LGBTQ+ research in the southeast — others are located in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. 

“It’s nice also to be recognized with the other nine award winners,” Gonzales said. “We’re the only one that’s LGBTQ+ themed. It’s good because we’re also not that old. So this just really tells our peers that, you know, we’re here, we’re queer and we’re doing it.”

To win this award, the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab had to demonstrate that they are filling a gap in DEIA opportunities in their area. According to McKay, running the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab in Tennessee — a predominantly Republican state — has created unique challenges the lab has had to overcome. 

The lab often writes policy briefs and sends them to the Tennessee legislature to consider, but finds that sometimes their writeups are not taken seriously. McKay termed these efforts “challenging,” but “really rewarding.”

“In our most recent discussion about gender-affirming care for transgender teens in Tennessee, we put together a policy brief. It was disseminated, we know people got it,” McKay said. “It was talked about by one of the Democrats on the committee that was reviewing it but disregarded by the other eight people on the committee who were Republicans. In terms of its factual content, this is still really important because it’s entered into the record and provides some avenues for challenges and appeals.”

Junior Olivia Quiroga, a research assistant in the lab, echoed McKay. Quiroga conducts research with one of the first gender and sexuality-specific datasets from outside North America and Europe. 

“Research surrounding discrimination against the LGBTQ community is critical, and the LGBT Policy Lab is absolutely deserving of being recognized for its tireless efforts in tackling the issues that affect the queer community,” Quiroga said. 

McKay added that lab leadership has not yet decided exactly how they want to spend their prize money, but among their plans is to reinvest into the lab’s infrastructure. In addition, they have not decided exactly what they will present at the symposium but may discuss the development of and training within LGBTQ+ Policy Lab. 

“We’ve put a lot of attention and intentionality into the training that we’ve done in particular, in terms of trying to make sure that people have the resources that they need to do this work well and stay in this work,” McKay said. “If they go into a job where they need to have funding or get federal support for their job, which about half of our trainees do, it’s really important to have the skills to be able to do that so that you can stay in this work.”

 

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About the Contributors
Rhea Patney
Rhea Patney, Managing Editor
Rhea Patney (‘26) is majoring in medicine, health and society and communication of science and technology on the pre-med track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from St. Louis and previously served as Deputy Data Director. When not writing for The Hustler, Rhea loves reading, starting new TV shows and struggling to finish them, playing sports and watching sunsets with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].

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