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Diversify Dietetics Links Aspiring Dietitians of Color With Critical Education Resources

By Elizabeth S. Goar

The field of dietetics is plagued by a lack of diversity, partly attributable to the educational barriers that prevent too many aspiring dietitians of color from entering the profession—barriers that Diversify Dietetics, an organization that aims to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the nutrition field, is determined to eliminate by pairing students with the resources they need to complete the educational requirements and sit for their RD licensing exam.

Diversify Dietetics was cofounded by Tamara S. Melton, MS, RDN, CPHIMS, executive director, and Deanna Belleny Lewis, MPH, RDN, director of programs. The organization seeks to provide “a safe space and community to support aspiring dietitians of color as they go from student to intern to professional [and provide] professional development opportunities so professionals of color can continue to grow in the field,” Belleny Lewis says.

She adds: “Our programs are unique because they’re tailored for people of color with a lens of cultural humility in motion.”

Student-facing resources, which are funded through donations, company sponsorships, grants, and proceeds from the organization’s programming, include the Mentor Program, the Dietetic Internship Application Support (DAS) Program, and scholarship support to help chip away at the financial barriers. This core programming also provides “other information to help students of color navigate the dietetics educational pathway,” Belleny Lewis says.

The DAS Program addresses one of the more significant obstacles for dietetics students by pairing them with a coach for one-on-one support through the application process. In 2022, all the program’s participants were successfully matched with internships.

“There’s a pool of really amazing, diverse students, but there’s a bottleneck when we get into the dietetic internship,” Belleny Lewis says. “We needed something that supports people of color so that when their application is in front of the committee, there’s not a shadow of a doubt they belong in the field.”

For one student who wishes to remain anonymous, access to DAS and Diversify Dietetics calmed her fears and gave her a sense of place. “I was scared,” she says. “The internship is so overwhelming and competitive. The DAS Program alleviated a lot of that stress. I received valuable feedback from my one-on-one mentor and the workshops. If you're a part of DAS, you just know that you belong.”

The Diversify Dietetics Mentor Program connects aspiring dietitians with diverse, practicing RDs to help them advance along their educational journey. It was one of the first resources established by Diversify Dietetics, Belleny Lewis says, noting that it addresses an important barrier for those who don’t have a clear “understanding of how to get through the field and who need support once they’re in it by giving them an advisor who’s supportive of their goals.”

For student Yelitza Aguilera, working with the Mentor Program played a critical role in her decision to pursue dietetics as a second career. “I would not be on this path had it not been for Diversify Dietetics,” Aguilera says. “I met Deanna … when I was just contemplating this change and she immediately connected me to other dietitians of color [and] to the Mentor Program. I met so many inspirational people who are a part of the community [and who] have kept me motivated, provided guidance, [and] given me something to aspire to.”

Earlier this year, Diversify Dietetics established its own dietetic internship, which Belleny Lewis calls “the most vanguard thing that we’ve done so far.” It’s designed to be “an example of what it looks like to support students of color in ways that promote and put more culturally humble dietitians out into the field.”

The program will enroll up to 10 students in a distance-learning internship, which eliminates the need to relocate. The organization also is raising scholarship funds to further reduce any out-of-pocket costs the students will incur—and has successfully raised enough funds to support their first class of nine dietetic interns, who start in August 2023.

Finally, Diversify Dietetics fosters community by organizing meetups nationwide for students, educators, and professionals. These informal gatherings vary by host but have included such activities as hiking, coffee, and traditional networking. So far, the organization has held meetups in more than 30 cities attended by 300-plus participants.

“Having a community of dietitians of color who support one another has been absolutely amazing. I'm so grateful for the community and I'm looking forward to continuing to support them,” Aguilera says.

More information on Diversify Dietetics and its student education resources can be found on the organization’s website at www.diversifydietetics.org.

— Elizabeth S. Goar is a freelance health writer based in Benton, Wisconsin.