We write this as UChicago community members — alumni, graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research scientists, and staff.
This week, the U.S. protests the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. We stand in solidarity with the protestors. We stand against the systemic anti-Blackness that continues to enact violence against Black people in the US. We recognize that these same oppressive systems exist in academia, and contribute to the inequities present in astronomy in general, and our department and division in particular. We believe that Black Lives Matter, Black Astronomers matter, and Black Physicists matter.
For your reflection and action, and to support Black folks in our community, listed here are
anti-racism resources, and
donation links to bail funds.
A comprehensive resource page put together by Astrobites sits here.
First, we strongly urge that all Final Exams be made optional for Spring 2020, as the disproportionate impact of current events on individual students' performances cannot be quantified nor standardized.
In addition to this immediate action, we demand that the administration of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics:
- Commit to building a community of Black scientists in our department by hiring at least 3 Black tenure-track faculty, along with a cohort of Black postdocs, KICP fellows, and graduate students. These actions must be taken within the next hiring cycle. The department should dedicate funds (~$5M), in collaboration with the Physical Sciences Division and other university resources.
- Commit to compulsory annual anti-racism training for all department members conducted by non-UChicago experts.
- Develop a mentorship program for Black students and postdoctoral fellows.
- Build a robust anti-racist, anti-xenophobic, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, and anti-transphobic Code of Conduct, which all participants are required to abide by in meetings, seminars, classes, and conferences within the Astronomy & Astrophysics community. The Code of Conduct should be displayed prominently on the Department website.
- Establish funds for an annual climate survey. This will be done in collaboration with the UChicago Survey Lab, and experts in the field of equity and inclusion, to regularly gauge the climate of the community.
- Financially support a monthly IDEA seminar, either during the Wednesday colloquium or Tuesday chalk talk time slot, with expert speakers from outside the UChicago community working in the field of equity and social justice.
- Develop a transparent process for addressing instances of racial and sexual harassment in the department and for holding community members accountable for their actions.
- Overhaul the advisor/advisee relationship structure and ensure that students and other junior scientists cannot be retaliated against by their advisors or the rest of the community. Example of a concrete approach: requiring agreements between advisors and students that detail expectations of one another; whether the agreement has been held up by both parties would be evaluated twice a year by the ombudsperson or other neutral party.
- In conjunction with the Division, donate $1M to Black STEM organizations. Great examples include: iamstemproject, The Hidden Genius Project, Black Girls Code, and Black Girls Do STEM.
- Restructure graduate admissions in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Drop the Physics and General GRE as considerations in graduate admissions; provide application fee waivers and explicitly state on the A & A website how to obtain one; actively recruit Black students at professional society meetings and through all other means possible; require standardized rubrics for evaluation of applications.
- Establish funds for a Fall Preview specifically for Black students in STEM. This program would invite undergraduate juniors, seniors, recent graduates, and Master’s students to the department to learn about ongoing research, the admissions process, and for a chance to meet current faculty and graduate students. Transportation and housing accommodations would be covered by the department. Specifically advertise and promote Discover UChicago, an expenses-paid opportunity for underrepresented minorities to explore graduate education at UChicago, on the admissions webpage.
- Establish a bridge program, which will provide resources, opportunities, and support to Black astrophysics and physics students.
- Develop an avenue for students to transfer into the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. Paths for transfers across the field of astronomy will help to protect students from bad actors in positions of power, the actions of whom disproportionately impact Black students.
- Build relationships with surrounding Black neighborhoods and support young Black scientists.
We recommend that the department develop a concrete plan for completing these demands to be shared with the broader community by the start of the Fall 2020 quarter. The plan should be completed in collaboration with the Equity & Inclusion Council, who should meet weekly to ensure consistent progress.
These demands have been laid out here after learning from and listening to Black activists in the Astronomy community, and as such represent a minimum of what must be implemented in departmental ecosystems without any delay. There is a dire need here to solicit more input from Black astronomers in the process of building the strategic plan. Black community members should be provided voluntary leadership roles in building this strategic plan of action.