Xavier recognized by NIH for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science

Xavier recognized by NIH for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science

Xavier University of Louisiana was recently recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women’s Health for its submission “Intersectional Directions: Faculty Success @XULA” for the NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science. The submission was based on the Supporting Transformations, Intersectional Directions to Engender Success (XULA STrIDES) program.


Xavier’s submission was listed among several large-scale institutions as an honorable mention in the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health statement on the announcement of the prize winners. Though Xavier was not one of the grant recipients, the institution’s recognition is a testament to the university’s excellence, considering the size and scope of the winners and other mentions. 


Xavier’s achievements, growth and rising reputation have elevated the university to a standard of excellence, resulting in high rankings when compared to other larger, widely recognized universities. Xavier University of Louisiana was the only HBCU recognized. 


Dr. Florastina Payton-Stewart spearheaded the program for two years as the Faculty Administrative Fellow for Diversity. In January 2021, she was appointed the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs to continue her work. Dr. Payton-Stewart recently gave a presentation about the program’s success through the NIH as part of the forum “Effective Approaches to Fostering Faculty Gender Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Celebrating Progress.” Dr. Payton-Stewart was part of the “Removing barriers to career advancement” segment, presenting alongside other panelists from institutions that received the grant and other honorable mentions, including Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the University of California, Irvine. 


The XULA STrIDES program was started in 2017 after Xavier received a National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant to address gender and racial diversity among faculty at Xavier. The program is rooted in intersectionality theory.


“‘Black’ and ‘woman’ are already two identities. We have to realize that we can’t just view individuals on one identity. We can’t solve a problem by looking at one identity. We have to look at the whole,” said Dr. Payton-Stewart. “We have to look at Xavier as a whole to see how to impact faculty ways of life and make sure they are comfortable while impacting our students in a positive way too.”


The program was the result of a collaboration between Dr. Payton-Stewart and the ADVANCE team, the Xavier Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support (IRD), the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development (CAT+FD) at Xavier, Xavier’s Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit (CEJHS), the College of Arts and Sciences Dean, Dr. Anderson Sunda-Meya, and the College of Pharmacy Dean, Dr. Kathleen Kennedy. The ADVANCE team originally included university Provost Dr. Anne McCall, Professor of Chemistry Dr. Stassi DiMaggio, Professor of Chemistry Dr. Mehnaaz Ali, and Erica Severan-Webb, the former director of special projects in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and the Chemistry Department. 



To best improve practices for students and faculty, the XULA STrIDES program utilizes a three-pronged approach: Appointing and utilizing a Faculty Administrative Fellow for Diversity, now the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, to coordinate a climate study and monitor and coordinate diversity efforts; Evidence-based training for search committees, leaders, and faculty given by national experts; and strengthened on-campus mentoring and peer networks.

Beyond the three-pronged approach, Dr. Payton-Stewart, the ADVANCE team, the Deans, IRD, CAT+FD, and CEJHS also looked at the hiring practices of the entire university. 

The review highlighted difficulties retaining women faculty, particularly Black or African American women in the biomedical fields. The initiatives developed by XULA STrIDES have caused Xavier to transform institutional policies that directly contribute to the retention and advancement of women in the biomedical faculty pipeline. These practices were especially applicable for women faculty of color. 

“Our students need diversity,” said Dr. Payton-Stewart. “They need to be taught by a diverse faculty and have a diverse staff. They need that in order to exist and excel in this global society.” 

The work of the XULA STrIDES program has resulted in changed hiring procedures campus-wide. Data collected by the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support indicates that these changes have significantly impacted faculty diversity, retention, and success. 

For example, in 2017, 4% of tenured or tenure-track STEM faculty members were Black or African-American women, which meant that Black women STEM majors outnumbered Black women STEM faculty 400:1. In 2019-2020, the number of tenured or tenure-track STEM faculty members who were African American women increased to 10%. 

Another example can be seen reflected in Xavier’s biomedical faculty.  Data shows that between 2016 and 2020 The percentage of AA/Black biomedical tenure-track faculty has increased from 27% to 56%. While these numbers show improvement, XULA STrIDES recognizes that more work needs to be done for the benefit of students.  

"Seeing a woman who looks like me, whether as a mentor or a professor or teacher, is quite remarkable. My key belief is that representation matters,” said Kai Davis, a senior studying mass communications at Xavier. “To be a black woman who is discovering her talents and strengths, it benefits us so much to see another black woman who has made it. Especially in a successful manner. Coming from a predominantly white high school, where now, most of my professors and teachers are black, it’s actually driven me to push harder and fully believe in myself that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. "

Click here to see the full list of winners and honorable mentions for the NIH Prize for Enhancing Faculty Gender Diversity in Biomedical and Behavioral Science.