Remembering René Salazar

The Broad Institute community mourns the loss of our chief equity officer.

René Salazar, the chief equity officer of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a passionate advocate for building diverse, inclusive communities and increasing equity in science and medicine, passed away in Cambridge, MA on October 1, 2022. 

René joined the Broad Institute in September 2021 in the newly-created position of chief equity officer and was a member of the executive leadership team. He quickly got to work as the leader of the recently created Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) at Broad. He hired a talented team to focus on three key pillars: fostering an inclusive climate and culture at Broad, increasing the diversity of the scientific workforce at Broad, and ensuring equity in the research conducted at Broad.

In addition to growing the IDEA office, René worked closely with the executive leadership team and other Broad community members to raise awareness of the impact of racism and implicit bias in science and research and to help them develop an IDEA mindset. He also worked closely with Broad community members at all levels, from core institute members to staff scientists, as well as Broad’s identity-based affinity groups, to learn about the institute’s culture and needs. 

In just one year at the institute, René led the launch of a remarkable number of programs and initiatives, including: 

  • a mentorship and networking program for women of color
  • a relaunch of the IDEA Ambassadors Program, which trains Broad community members to be IDEA champions and work on IDEA projects  
  • a leadership development program for members of the identity-based affinity groups
  • a Broad-wide survey to gather data on the climate of the institute

René and his team also organized and hosted institute-wide events, including a symposium on equity in biomedicine and the annual Belonging@Broad symposium, which aims to help build a more inclusive culture. 

This fall, René and his team were laying the groundwork for these and additional efforts, which will continue to be important priorities for the Broad moving forward.

In a message to the Broad community shortly after René’s passing, institute director Todd Golub shared that René “established a very strong team, and engaged all of us – including and especially me and the rest of Broad’s leadership team – in the difficult work of learning, growing, and facing challenging but necessary work together. Above all, René was a gentle, caring soul who became a trusted friend to many Broadies.”

Across the Broad and nationally, colleagues have remembered René as an inspirational leader who represented hope and drove progress for many – especially for individuals from historically underrepresented communities in science.

René grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, deep in the heart of South Texas. A first-generation college student, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in pharmacy. He earned his medical degree from the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at University of Texas Health San Antonio. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as well as a one-year Latino health disparities research fellowship, where he studied cancer prevention in Latino communities. 

René joined the faculty in UCSF’s Health Division of General Internal Medicine in 2003 and soon began doing work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. From 2007 to 2016, he served as the chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine’s Residency Diversity Committee and the director of diversity for the Office of Graduate Medical Education, where he led efforts to recruit residents and fellows from underrepresented backgrounds. René also developed and launched an education program to mitigate unconscious bias among UCSF faculty, staff, students, and trainees in clinical settings. During this time, he mentored many Latino, Black, and LGBTQ+ students, and also worked tirelessly at Clínica Martin Baró, providing care to underserved populations.

In 2016, he joined the UT Austin Dell Medical School as assistant dean for diversity, where he established Dell Med’s first office of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and led campus-wide DEI efforts. In this role, he launched programs to increase the recruitment and retention of students, residents, and trainees from historically marginalized communities, and launched mentorship programs for underrepresented students at UT Austin and other local universities. He also established several cultural identity-based affinity groups and pipeline programs to expose middle and high school students from underrepresented communities to the health sciences. He did this work while continuing to teach medical students and care for patients. René continually drew from his personal and clinical experiences as a general internist when working with patients from diverse communities.

With 20 years of experience as a physician, professor, and DEI leader, René came to Broad to devote himself full time to his passion of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in academia and research. 

At Broad and in his work nationally, René regularly shared his own story, describing himself as “a gay Mexican-American who's a first-generation college student.” He often spoke about how inclusive leadership means “understanding one’s identity, recognizing opportunities for growth, and using elements of your identity to create change.” He was passionate about bringing his authentic self to work and was laser-focused on the work to enable others at Broad to do the same.

René was warm and kind. He believed strongly in mentorship, and encouraged young scientists to make connections, find mentors, and seize opportunities, even if they take people outside of their comfort zone. 

René’s enthusiasm and excitement for DEI work was infectious. He was realistic about how challenging the work is, but was also endlessly optimistic that change would happen. He inspired many at Broad with his commitment to ushering in that change.

As we shared in an email to the Broad community when René joined the institute, Broad was seeking a senior leader who would be “a voice in the room for transformative, essential, and sometimes uncomfortable change.” Although René is no longer with us, Broad Institute is committed to continuing the work he came here to do. We aim to ensure his voice will never be lost.