Why racial equity matters in IRB submissions

An organization’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) protects human subjects involved in research activities and ensures that research is conducted in an ethnical manner. The principles of the Belmont Report that govern the IRB (see below) were birthed from a history of unethical practices toward ethnic and racial minority research participants. The IRB plays an important role in ensuring that researchers are held accountable to ethical research practices.

The IRB is composed of a panel of trained researchers, practitioners, and community members who review studies to ensure that research is conducted in an ethical manner by adhering to three guiding principles: (1) respect for persons (i.e., treating individuals as autonomous human beings capable of making their own decisions); (2) beneficence (i.e., minimizing risks of harm and maximizing potential benefits); and (3) justice (i.e., burdens and benefits are shared equitably).

While the IRB focuses exclusively on compliance with the letter of these principles, racial equity considerations are essential to fully comply with their intent. Therefore, we encourage researchers to maximize ethical research by considering racial and ethnic perspectives when drafting an IRB application. Below, we make actionable suggestions for how to do so. While these considerations are not required to obtain IRB approval (i.e., IRB approval is not contingent upon the inclusion of these specific examples), we believe that consideration of racial equity and IRB principles to the fullest extent possible—within project resources and boundaries—will further the goals of the IRB.

Racial equity considerations when submitting to the IRB

Researchers can apply the following racial equity considerations at various phases of the research process.

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