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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 2021 - July > President's Message

President's Message

Eric Bui, MD, PhD, ISTSS President

July 29, 2021

I hope everyone is spending as nice a summer as you can despite the ongoing health crisis. I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of having a diverse organization and to share a few steps that ISTSS has taken toward diversifying our membership in support of Strategic Goal 2 (“ISTSS promotes professional, demographic, cultural and geographic diversity and inclusivity among our membership”). As someone born in France from Vietnamese refugee parents, who has lived 10 years in the U.S., and who happens to think (and sometimes dream) in four different languages, I deeply value diversity, not only to promote inclusivity and tolerance, but also as a central tenet of scientific excellence. However, despite all this, I found myself struggling greatly when writing this column on diversity, as this brings up conflicting feelings in me.

Raised as a French citizen, I had been taught early on to be “color-blind.” In fact, the a priori definition of races and ethnicity is considered at odds with Article 1 of the French Constitution (France “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion”). The French approach to fight racism is based on universalism, a value dating back to the middle ages, and has focused on uniting its citizens under a French identity (think, “wine, cheese, baguette”), regardless of their “ancestral” origins. When I arrived in the U.S. over a decade ago the concept of race classification was quite foreign to me, and when asked to self-identify I would spontaneously respond Southern French (I have a Southern French accent when speaking French) and “white.” In fact, I grew up thinking of myself as white, as everyone around me at school and work also thought of me as white. It was only after a few years spent in Boston that I gradually allowed myself to embrace the Asian part of my identity. This shift was brought upon by people around me constantly perceiving me as (and reminding that I was) Asian and by seeing many different minority groups here in the U.S. fully acknowledging and being openly proud of their racial or ethnic identities. As we learn in our field, one does not really “forget” a fear memory but rather learn a new safety memory that conflicts with the initial fear memory (i.e., extinction learning). I feel the same way here, when writing this column, with two different conflicting beliefs.

I wanted to share this personal journey, as it does also reflect to a certain extent the journey ISTSS will also have to walk as an international organization that brings together people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, languages, social and legal norms, and also academic backgrounds. As ISTSS strives to become increasingly international and inclusive, we have to work hard to reconcile different social norms, especially with regard to our approach to diversity. This is difficult work, but it is work that the Board of Directors has already begun doing when making decisions over the past year. Adding to the already existing efforts to promote diversity, including the Journal of Traumatic Stress Editorial Fellowship for Underrepresented Scholars, the Board of Directors has recently approved the creation of the Underrepresented Scholars Membership Award. The deadline to apply is August 13, 2021, and I would like to encourage you to reach out to potential candidates for this award that will provide them with the opportunity to join our organization at no cost. Similarly, our annual meeting will feature for the first time this year an antiracism training, and I invite you all to attend by registering for our virtual meeting here when registration opens.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge that this column was written by ISTSS’ first non-white (and French) President. My presidency—the first of an individual of color since ISTSS’ inception 36 years ago—reflects the burgeoning but nonetheless real increase in racial diversity across the different levels of our membership, and I am now dreaming (in English) of a time when individuals of colors serving in this role will be common in our Society.