Findings from CIHR Environmental Scan on Systemic Racism in Health Research and Funding Systems (2021-22)

CIHR’s Strategic Plan (2021-2031) includes a commitment to engage with members of the research community with lived experience and expertise to co-develop an anti-racism action plan that will address systemic racism in the CIHR funding system.

From November 2020 to February 2022, CIHR conducted an environmental scan to identify key issues, challenges, and barriers resulting from systemic racism in the health research funding system. The findings will help ground discussions with the community and define the objectives of CIHR’s anti-racism action plan, noting this scan is one of several sources of information.

This scan includes findings from 54 references including peer-reviewed research, commentaries, academic magazines, open letters to funding agencies and universities, and publications from funding agencies, Canadian universities, not-for-profits, and the Canadian federal government. Highlights of key findings are summarized below.

Systemic racism in academia

In academia, racism has a strong effect on the climate of institutions. At the individual level, racialized students often cite microaggressions as the primary form of racism they experience. These include subtle or dismissive gestures; harassment by security/law enforcement personnel; racial profiling; tokenism, exclusion from peer groups/networks; Eurocentric curricula; lectures framed in racist manners; unfair grading; and students receiving biased advice.

Faculty and staff often describe institutionalized racism, a form of systemic racism, as a defining feature of academic life. Institutionalized racism refers to how policies and rules reinforce ways of thinking that dehumanize people. This includes denial of tenure or promotion; biased academic evaluation metrics; less stable academic positions; underrepresentation of racialized students and faculty; a lack of scholarly autonomy; unequal service and mentoring demands; a lack of teaching release time; less appreciation for alternative ways of knowing and learning; higher turn-over of racialized faculty members; higher drop-out rates of racialized students; and racial segmentation of the academic labour market.

Systemic racism in health research funding

Existing literature from Canada and abroad illuminates that the structural inequities which exist within academic institutions, and are a function of systemic racism, also exist within health research funding systems. This literature describes three domains where these structural inequities exist: ‘who’ is funded; ‘what’ is funded; and ‘how’ decisions are made.


As a result of the environmental scan, CIHR has highlighted the following key issues that its action plan will specifically aim to address.




Glossary of Terms

Anti-racism: The active process of identifying and challenging racism, by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes, to redistribute power in an equitable manner (Source: Glossary of Terms: Race, Equity and Social Justice).

Disaggregated Data: Disaggregating data means breaking down information into smaller subpopulations. For instance, breaking data down into racial/ethnic categories (Source: Glossary of Terms: Race, Equity and Social Justice).

Eurocentric Curricula: Refers to the dominance of European (liberal universalist) ways of knowing in teaching, learning, and understanding.

Inequities: Inequities refer to social group differences that are unjust and avoidable.

Lack of scholarly autonomy: Refers to restrictions on academics’ abilities to determine or shape their own research agendas.

Lack of teaching release time: Refers to limited teaching release, which normally provides academics with the opportunity to focus on their research responsibilities.

Microaggressions: Everyday insults, indignities, and demeaning messages sent to historically marginalized groups by well-intentioned members of the majority group who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent (Source: Glossary of Terms: Race, Equity and Social Justice).

Racial segmentation in the academic labor market: Refers to the over and underrepresentation of specific racial groups in particular disciplines and faculties.

Tokenism: Traditionally, the token work situation is defined as a skewed group with a large number of one type and one or two of another type, wherein racialized people, who are a numerical minority, experience performance pressures and social psychological troubles. Newer research, however, indicates that their experiences do not only have negative connotations.

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