Paul L. Caron

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Nii Addy: Christian. Black. Neuroscientist.

John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), Christian. Black. Neuroscientist.:

Addy 2Nii Addy is the Albert E. Kent Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Yale School of Medicine. Nii directs a federally funded research program investigating cholinergic, dopaminergic and L-type calcium channel mechanisms mediating substance use and mood disorders. His team also studies the ability of tobacco product flavor additives to alter nicotine use behavior and addiction.

Nii is also the inaugural Director of Scientist Diversity, and Inclusion at the School of Medicine. And he has a podcast, The Addy Hour, and a Substack, The Addy Minute. ...

John Inazu:  You are a Black Christian in elite academic medicine, which I imagine is a somewhat rare overlap. What has been your experience navigating your different identities? What relationships have you found the most encouraging and discouraging in this regard?

Nii Addy:  In my experience, it has definitely been a rare overlap of being a Christian and a Black academic. This is especially true in scientific circles. At the same, I’ve been blessed to interact with more and more people in similar situations. This includes other professors, staff, students and trainees.

The discouraging experiences are sometimes borne out of people’s good intentions. In the past, some colleagues tried to use a color-blind mindset. I’d hear comments like, “I don’t see you as Black, I just see you as another scientist.” It may sound good and inclusive. But that response is completely inconsistent with how I experience life in academia as a Black Scientist. When I walk into a lab, participate in a meeting, lecture in a classroom, or speak at a conference as one of the few Black people in the room, people are not simply perceiving me and interacting with me as “just another scientist.”  People’s reactions range from curiosity about my perspective as a Black scientist, to wanting me to speak on behalf of all Black people, to outright discrimination, dismissiveness, or racism.

It’s been important to unpack these realities and acknowledge all the challenges that accompany this experience. It’s also important to think about the ways we can all support each other, without pretending that realities don’t exist. Thankfully, many people have been engaging in these conversations with more of an empathetic and listening ear. I’ve also been blessed to engage with like-minded individuals, mentors and sponsors in so many different organizations. This includes my participation as a graduate student in the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics and Success (SPINES), my involvement at Yale in the Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion (MORE), my participation with the Veritas Forum, and of course my ongoing engagement with The Carver Project!

JI: Somewhat related to the last question, what is one way that you’ve felt most misunderstood in your professional and public roles? How do you navigate this?

NA: Early in my training and career, I felt misunderstood when people stated that being a scientist and a Christian were incompatible. There were times when people viewed my faith as somehow negatively impacting my legitimacy as a scientist. As a Black scientist, I’ve also met me people who have incredulously said, “You’re Dr. Addy?” as if to say, “You can’t possibly be Dr. Addy.”

Earlier in my career, these experiences were very frustrating. They caused me to doubt my place as a scientist. With time, I’ve had many validating experiences that have reminded me of my value and my valuable contributions. That’s not to say that the negative reactions aren’t still frustrating. But I’ve shifted my mindset to focus on what God has called me to do. I’ve tried to pay less attention to the naysayers and those passing judgment based on very limited knowledge about me.

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Other faith posts by John Inazu:

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