The Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium has named Dr. Christopher Li its first associate director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In this role, Li will coordinate and drive work that enhances diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, efforts across the Consortium’s partner institutions — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UW and Seattle Children’s. This work will enable the Consortium to serve as a national leader in this endeavor.
“Our Consortium is committed to drive diversity, equity and inclusion within our organizations and across our research. Not only is this the moral and just thing to do, it’s critical to the success of our science,” said Dr. Thomas J. Lynch Jr., president and director of Fred Hutch and holder of the Raisbeck Endowed Chair. “Chris is widely recognized for promoting diversity in cancer research and is a thoughtful leader and exceptional partner in the Hutch’s journey to become an anti-racist institution. I could not be more excited for him to step into this role, and I look forward to partnering with him on the next steps of this mission-critical work.”
The new role is in addition to Li’s positions at Fred Hutch as professor in the Public Health Sciences Division and faculty director for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, as well as research professor in the University of Washington Department of Epidemiology.
Li said his vision for the role is to harmonize, integrate and advance DEI efforts across the Consortium institutions in partnership with his colleagues at each organization.
“Achieving greater diversity among our scientists and leadership is absolutely critical to our mission of eliminating cancer, as diversity is a major driver of innovation and collaboration,” Li said. “Through fostering an environment that is inclusive of those from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, we will expand our opportunities to deeply challenge existing paradigms and advance research that we hope will improve people’s lives and reduce health inequities.”
Toward this end, Li is developing and implementing a plan to increase the diversity of trainees, faculty and leadership across the Consortium to better reflect the diversity of the United States, with a focus on recruitment, retention and leadership development. He is also creating programs designed to increase diversity in the cancer research workforce.
Soon, every National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center will have to present a plan for increasing the diversity of their workforce, including faculty and other employees. On Dec. 3, The Cancer Letter featured the work of Li and Law to collaborate with their peers to make progress together via the new Cancer Center DEI Network.
“There’s a new emphasis on the part of NCI to really try and promote increasing diversity among the scientific workforce, in particular, at our nation’s cancer centers,” Li told The Cancer Letter. “We’re all trying to work through the new guidelines and figure out how we will approach them.”
Li and Dr. Wendy Law, the Consortium’s associate director for administration, have initiated a regular series of networking meetings with DEI leaders at other National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers to build relationships with peers and share DEI best practices. Li will also lead efforts to shape and implement DEI goals for the Consortium, as an NCI-designated cancer center. These include increasing participation of nationally underrepresented groups in the research workforce and in cancer center leadership and advisory boards, as well as supporting training, mentoring and other career-enhancing research opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds. In these efforts, Li will collaborate closely with the Consortium’s Office of Education & Training, which oversees the continuum of cancer research training from high school through junior faculty, as well as the Consortium’s Office of Community Outreach & Engagement, which connects the researchers to communities that are served by the Consortium, including those with the highest cancer burdens in Washington.
An epidemiologist, Li focuses on breast and colorectal cancer causes, screening, early detection and survivorship. He is also a nationally recognized leader in efforts to ensure that cancer research benefits all people and to make the research enterprise itself more equitable, diverse and inclusive.
At Fred Hutch, he is the director and principal investigator of the Region 5 Geographical Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program, funded by the NCI, which involves a team of institutions, cancer centers, community health educators, scientists and students working together to end cancer health disparities and make quality cancer care accessible for everyone across seven Western states and U.S. territories.
Through his role as the faculty director for the Fred Hutch Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Li’s leadership helps the Hutch advance DEI efforts related to faculty, trainees and science. Among his achievements in this role, Li led the Hutch’s 2021 faculty cluster hire, which helped to increase the diversity of the Hutch faculty through the recruitment of talented scientists including those who identify as underrepresented minorities.
“This work is deeply important to me on both a personal and professional level,” Li said. “My family has experienced the consequences of structural racism, and at the same time I am deeply appreciative of the mentorship and support I have received throughout my career. I view this as an incredible opportunity to pay forward the generosity that has been extended to me and to meaningfully contribute to the continued enrichment and advancement of our Cancer Consortium.”
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