Monday, June 26, 2017

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Adrianna Perez



Cross-posted from the TAURUS Blog (Director: Prof. Caitlin Casey, UT Austin)

We are thrilled to share with you the first of our 2017 TAURUS Scholar Spotlights!  Adrianna Perez is a senior at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she majors in Physics.  Adrianna participated in the Banneker-Aztlán Institute last summer working with Dr. Jill Naiman and Prof. Jorge Moreno and joins us for TAURUS this summer. She was interviewed by her research mentor, Dr. Chao-Ling Hung.

CLH: Can you tell me about yourself? What is your story?

AP: I’m from California, live in Bellflower. Basically my whole life in Bellflower, went to Bellflower high school, graduated from there. Right out of the high school, I went to Cal State Dominguez Hill as a first generation college student with already my Physics major declared, although I was still unsure whether that was what I wanted to do. I took Physics in high school, and I did really well in it and I thought it was fun, so I went with that :). I was like, OK, I like Physics, so I feel like that’s a good place to start.

So I went to Dominguez Hills, start taking my Physics classes there, and really started to like it. The problems were harder at first. So I was a little, oh no, what if I can’t do this. But I just kept working at it, got better at it, and really started to like it. And then, just space was cool, so that’s how the Astronomy part came in. But we don’t have an Astronomy department at my school, so I wasn’t really exposed to it. 

It wasn’t until Dr. Moreno came to my school and gave a talk about his galaxy mergers, that I learned about research in Astronomy. And he mentioned the Banneker-Aztlán Institute, and I was really interested. So after his talk, I spoke to him. He encouraged me to apply. So I did that and got accepted, and then went to Harvard, and really liked it. Now I’m positive that I really want to be in Astronomy.

CLH: Can you share a little bit about of your future and career goals?

AP: I think a lot about becoming a professor, but I’m not entirely sure. I know I want to go to graduate school and get a PhD. After that, maybe do a postdoc, and after that, get into academia, or try to be a faculty member. I feel like I might go down that path, but I’m still open to the possibilities. You don’t necessarily have to go to academia, there are other options. But I feel like, that is where I will end up.

CLH: So what brings you to the TAURUS program, and how do you think the TAURUS program will help you to reach your career goals?

AP: I was interested in TAURUS because at AAS, Dr. Moreno was telling me that Caitlin was gonna be here and the TAURUS people were going to be here. So we had a joint lunch with them, the Banneker-Aztlán people had lunch with the TAURUS people. I got to speak with the previous scholars and I asked how they liked it, and they were all really happy and excited and tell me all these great things. So I’m like, wow that sounds really good. Especially because I really liked Banneker and I wanted to be in something that’s similar. Because I know some REU can feel more competitive, and lonely. You’re just in the office, working by yourself and nobody wants to help you. So I didn’t want to be in that kind of environment. I wanted to be in a place that would feel similar to the one I was already in. And the previous scholars spoke very well of it. I met Caitlin there, and spoke with her. She said, sure, go apply! So I applied. I heard the program had a goal of diversity and inclusion and I really liked that. That’s up and coming in Astronomy, people are trying to change that. So I would like to be in part of the program where that is included.

CLH: So how would success in this TAURUS program look like to you?

AP: I hope to make many new friends. And I hope to get somewhat far in the research, and just to be able to answer that question now. And I want to give a good talk at the end! :) I want to have a nice talk with nice pictures, and explain myself well. I used to have a pretty big fear of public speaking. So I want to be able to communicate, and give a presentation without running off the stage. :)

CLH: I heard from Dr. Moreno that you gave an extremely good talk at the final presentation last year. Congratulations!

AP: Thank you. I worked really hard. We had a speech class once every week. But I would go a bit earlier, that way, I will practice before everybody else would come to, just to get comfortable saying it on stage. I can handle speaking in front of a couple people, but when the group gets bigger than five, then it’s like, oh no! 

CLH: Yeah, the community here would definitely help and provide feedback, and you can give an even better talk in the end.

AP: Yeah, I hope to top my previous talk, and that would be a success to me.

CLH: Just to change the gear a bit. How do you learn best (e.g., hands-on experience, reading literature about a topic, verbal explanations, process diagrams, etc.)? What is the most useful kind of assistance your mentor can provide?

AP: I think I learn the best from reading and listening. So I can read something and if I don’t understand it right away and get some kind of verbal clarification, that would be good. Sometimes drawing pictures helps a lot. But I don’t know if I would consider myself a hands-on person. Because I normally don’t like to build, or do things from my hands, I feel uncoordinated. :) So that doesn’t work too much.

Something I like is smaller celebrations. Even if it’s like a small goal, like I read half the paper, or I got a plot to work. These small things are what make me feel good. Yes! It might not be something big or fancy, but it’s progress, and I feel that’s worth celebrating.

CLH: Can you talk about what challenges and obstacles have you faced in your career? How have you overcome these challenges?

AP: I’ve already briefly mentioned the public speaking one. I feel like it’s my biggest obstacle. Because I can get really shy, nervous, and anxious sometimes, and withdraw into myself, don’t talk to anyone and go out much. When you need any help, you should be able to ask. If you don’t ask, then nothing will happen. That’s the biggest obstacle is to come out and say I need help.

CLH: What are you most proud of?

AP: I am proud that I can make little movies. Something that makes me proud is that I make little bunch of snapshots, and compile them up into a little movie. I think it’s really cool.

CLH: If there are other freshman or sophomore students who are interested in following your path, what advice would you give to them?

AP: I feel like I was lucky that Dr. Moreno came to my school, especially because it is small. But for other places, I feel like you would at least want to look into places you would be interested in doing research. If somebody is interested in going to Harvard or here at UT Austin, then I’d say try to get in contact with somebody here or I would put them in contact, introduce them to somebody. Let them talk about what that student’s research or career goals are. And hopefully, they will get a better idea if that’s what they want to do or not.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Faculty Highlight: Kelle Cruz

Biography
Kelle Cruz is a rising Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the City University of New York Hunter College. She is an observational astronomer and studies low mass stars and brown dwarfs. She was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. She earned both her BA and PhD in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 and 2004, respectively. She was an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC from 2004-2007 and then a Spitzer Fellow at Caltech from 2007-2009. She joined the faculty at CUNY in 2010 and was recently awarded tenure and promotion. Kelle is the founder and editor of the AstroBetter.com Blog and Wiki. She is also on the Coordinating Committee for the Astropy Project. As Chair of the AAS Employment Committee she helped expand the  professional development workshop offerings at the Winter meeting. Her term as a AAS Councillor begins in June.

Jillian Bellovary*: The BDNYC research group is a really unique scientific community.  Can you talk about your role in establishing the group and the leadership role you have?

Kelle Cruz: The BDNYC research group is based in NYC and is led by three women. One of our primary goals is to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for our members.
I was never interested in leading a typical research group. I’ve always recognized that I wanted to do things differently. Specifically, I wanted to create an environment that was supportive of various types of learners and students like myself who were never considered “good at physics” because they weren’t good at the classes. I’ve known since I was a freshman in college that being a good scientist is very different than being good at getting A’s in Physics classes and I wanted to create a research group which recognizes and honors that.
For personality reasons, I decided that I wanted to live in NYC no matter what and staying in Astronomy and/or academia was secondary. The opportunity to become a professor at Hunter College (which is part of the City University of New York) and to collaborate with my best friends came after my decision to settle in NYC. However, my commitment to NYC also fueled my dedication to build a successful collaboration. At the time of formation, I was a brand new faculty member, Jackie Faherty was about to get her PhD from Stony Brook, and Emily Rice was a postdoc at AMNH. We all had a shared vision of living in NYC, doing research, strong outreach, and mentorship.

Jillian: In your opinion, what qualities make your work so unique and compelling?

Kelle: Brown dwarfs are literally cool while also being scientifically complex due to the clouds in their atmospheres. They can be thought of as massive planets or as super small stars. Their properties have clues to tell us about both planet formation and star formation. In fact, for some objects, we’re not even sure if we should call them “failed stars” or over-ambitious planets. I think it’s this not-quite-knowing-what-they-are-yet, not being able to reliably label them, which makes them particularly intriguing.

Jillian: You have been an active participant in AAS Hack Day and .Astronomy, and you are the founder and maintainer of AstroBetter and a coordinator of the Astropy Project.  Why do you think these things are important for our field?

Kelle:  Astronomy is relatively small compared to other fields and our ability to organize is much higher than in other larger disciplines. I find this ability to influence the way everybody does things very attractive. I think that improving the technological proficiency of the astronomy community is low hanging fruit for making everyone happier, more productive, and more marketable outside of academia. The initial success of AstroBetter and it’s near immediate influence on the field propelled me to take on active and vocal roles in similar initiatives and communities such as .Astro and the Astropy Project.

JillianPlease tell us about yourself.  What’s your story?

KelleI was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and we spent a lot of time thinking about how we got here and what the future holds. When I was about 12, I realized that since I was a woman, I would never be able to hold a leadership role in the JW organization and that was a deal breaker for me. My self-awareness of my bossy-ness was acute at an early age and if I was going to dedicate my life to something, I’d want to be in charge! Around junior year in high school, I recognized that studying Astronomy was a way to continue engaging with these same weighty topics in a community where I could hold a leadership role. In many ways, AstroBetter is just my version of proselytizing, just like I was raised doing.

JillianCongratulations on being named an AAS Councilor!  Why did you decide to run for council?

KelleAs long time chair of the Employment Committee, I have become familiar with the way the AAS works and was eager to take on an even larger role in the society. I am particularly excited about helping to usher in the new governance structure, which gives more voice to the committees. I also think that the AAS is an avenue for making tangible change real for a lot of people. In a time where we might otherwise feel helpless, the prospect of making things better for people via the AAS is very attractive.

JillianWho inspired you as you were pursuing your career, and how?

KelleI’ve always been self-directed. There was no person in particular who I was aiming to emulate.

JillianWhat challenges or obstacles have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Kelle: I am bad at doing physics problems. I have overcome this problem by recognizing that skill is mostly relevant for being good at physics coursework and the physics GRE and is not a prerequisite for doing excellent science. I think I was just lucky that this disconnect was obvious to me very early in my career. There were two things which helped me “overcome” this obstacle: 1) I got involved in research as a freshman because I was precocious like that and 2) I didn’t know better. I was free of preconceived notions about what being a good scientist means so being bad at the coursework didn’t discourage me very much.

JillianPeople of color, especially women of color, are severely underrepresented in our field.  Can you point to any factors (specific programs, individual mentors, etc.) that helped you succeed?

KelleYES. The PREP program in San Antonio. I was taking math and engineering courses for three summers starting after 8th grade. We were told that we were the “cream of the crop” and we were also all Latinos or African American and also got free lunch because more than half of us qualified – in retrospect I recognize that this program was selecting first generation college students and the generally underprivileged who would otherwise not have been pushed towards STEM careers. We had speakers come to tell us about career paths, college, and pursuing a professional STEM career in general. As a result, I was academically prepared and aware of the options available to me.
I was maybe 12 or 13 and my mom said, if we weren’t JWs, I would want you to go to an Ivy League school. And since I wasn’t super committed to being a JW, I realized I should consider going to an Ivy League school. I don’t think that’s what she intended to happen! By the time I was in 9th grade, I had decided I wanted to go to the University of Pennsylvania. Mostly due to the undergraduate business program. I got accepted as a junior, deferred admission so I could finish my senior year of high school. During that year, I decided I wanted to pursue astronomy and not business. A motto I came up with is that I didn’t want to make money by making other people money. This is something which I still live by. I arrived at UPenn and went to the “Astronomy” adviser. I learned that the Astronomy dept had recently been dissolved. He asked me if I wanted to do backyard astronomy or science astronomy. I told him that I wanted to be scientist and he told me I had to be a physics major. That is NOT what I had in mind -- I had dropped out of my high school physics class. I declared my major immediately so that it would be harder for me to quit.

JillianCan you share any ideas you have about making astronomy a more equitable and inclusive community?

KelleI think we have many “aspiring allies” who want to help but lack the experience, training, knowledge, etc. I think if we made this a priority for our community, in the same way we’ve made transitioning to Python, for example, a priority, we could be the most inclusive scientific community in the US and a role model for everyone else. We’re small. Word travels fast. Grass roots efforts make world-wide impact in a short period of time because people move around so much. I think if every dept/research group/collaboration dedicated some time to raising awareness and changing practices, we’d reap the benefits of increased matriculation and decreased attrition. People would choose to become astronomers over other fields because of our awesomeness. Basically, I think small but dedicated efforts are worthwhile.

JillianWhat advice would you give to young people interested in following your path?

KelleSelf-awareness and knowing what you want is really helpful in making decisions and choosing the path that’s right for you. Spend time and energy looking inward and thinking critically about what you want more of in your life and what you want less of. Make career and life choices which will get you more of what you want and minimize what you don’t want. Iterating on this algorithm is what led me to my dream job. Everyone’s optimization function is going to be different.

Jillian Any final words?

KelleThanks so much for taking the time to do this interview series!

* Jillian Bellovary is an assistant professor at Queensborough Community College and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History.  She is also a member of the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

ACLU Texas Travel Advisory in Wake of SB4

By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0.


On May 9th, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced a travel advisory for people traveling to Texas after the passing of SB4, a law that will allow police officers to investigate immigration status during any encounter with law enforcement -- including routine traffic stops. Although SB4 will not go into effect until September 1st, the ACLU warns that its passing may cause some to enforce the law prematurely.



As with a similar law that has been in place in Arizona since 2010, we recognize that this policy puts some AAS members at risk. With the AAS Summer Meeting and the Women in Astronomy Conference just a few weeks away, these members may be reconsidering their travel to Austin or feel anxious about attending. We recognize that these fears are legitimate and offer our support at such an uncertain time.



The following are recommendations for people traveling to Texas in the near future. If you are considering canceling your travel plans to Austin due to the passing of SB4, or if you can suggest resources for those affected, please contact CSMA Chair Jorge Moreno (csmachairmoreno at gmail dot com).



For more general information about what to do if you encounter ICE, please see this article.
  • Do not drive without a license
  • Do not ride with someone who does not have a license
  • Favor using taxis or rideshares over renting/driving. A local community development clinic has been working with an Austin taxi cooperative (green cabs), which can be called at 512-333-5555.
  • Do not drink and drive. Avoid drinking excessively.
  • Do not engage in any criminal activity.
  • Austin Police Department does not have a written policy regarding inquiring about immigration status, but in practice they do not cooperate with ICE.
  • Travis County still has its anti-detainer policy in place. 
  • Boycotting Texas is always an option, although this may not be feasible on such short notice


If you believe your rights have been violated because of SB4, please contact the ACLU of Texas at 1-888-507-2970.
ACLU “Know Your Rights” materials relevant to SB4 are available here: 
www.aclu.org/kyr-police-immigration
www.aclu.org/kyr-police-immigration-spanish

Monday, May 1, 2017

Student Highlight: Sydney Duncan

Sydney Duncan, Physics & Dance, University of Utah
(Left photo by Sydney's father. Right photo by Luke Isley)

Biography
Sydney Duncan is a native of Dallas, where she trained in classical ballet at Tuzer Ballet and Texas Ballet Theatre School. At Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, she studied saxophone, voice, and dance. Duncan then attended University of Utah, where she double majored in ballet and physics and performed with Utah Ballet. She has attended summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Atlanta Ballet, LINES Ballet, Ailey, Oklahoma City Ballet, Dallas Ballet Dance Theatre, and Hubbard Street. She completed Astrophysics REUs at University of Oklahoma and University of Chicago. At the University of Utah she conducted research on the chemical abundances of globular clusters with Dr. Inese Ivans. She is now dancing professionally in New York City.
  

Nicole Cabrera Salazar*: What made you decide to double major in ballet and physics?

Sydney Duncan: I started dancing at 3, and around 13 I saw an African American dancer on stage and I told my mom I wanted to be a professional dancer, so I started a more rigorous professional training in classical ballet. I went to a math and science elementary, middle, and high school magnet program. In my junior year I took my first physics class and it was incredible. I first learned kinematics and I thought, this is dance! I already knew about torque through ballet, and I applied what I learned in physics to dance, and vice versa. My parents told me I couldn’t dance forever, and encouraged me to look at physics college programs. From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an astronaut, so I decided to major in astrophysics. I looked for college programs that had both physics and ballet as majors. It really narrowed my choices down! I wanted a top tier dance program at a research university, which narrowed it down to 3 schools and finally decided on Utah.

Nicole: Both ballet and physics require hard work and dedication; did taking both majors slow down your progress toward graduation?

Sydney: Yes! I did a lot of work for both. The summer before my freshman year of college, I did a summer intensive training program for ballet. Every semester after that I took more than a full course load, around 23 credits a semester including summers. I don’t recommend doing that, especially because upper level physics courses require more time to learn the material. I took more than 90 classes/200 credits in the course of 4 and a half years.

Nicole: I heard that you also did research in 3 different astronomy fields! When did you find time to do that?

Sydney: I did two REUs, one at the University of Oklahoma on Dwarf galaxies, learning about N-body simulations. That was tough because it was my first research experience and it was very computer heavy. My second REU was at the University of Chicago doing experimental cosmology, and making parts for a cryogenic refrigerator for the South Pole Telescope Group. My last year of school I did spectroscopic research with my professor at Utah on chemical abundances of globular clusters. I would do this on top of training at various ballet companies at their summer intensives. I was always doing something!

Nicole: As someone who participated in summer REU programs, I’m amazed that you were able to do this while also fitting in summer ballet training. How did you manage it?

Sydney: To be quite honest, I put a lot of pressure on myself and had trouble taking time for myself and sleeping enough. I am just now learning how to sleep again! I would advise other people not to do it this way. Being sleep deprived for 4 years takes a toll on your physical and mental health. I was an angrier person, it affected my class attendance, and I did not go home to see my family very much. There was one whole calendar year I saw them for only two weeks. I would go directly from school to training to my REU and back again. I managed because I was doing what I loved, but there was definitely a lot of sacrifices.

Nicole: Where does your motivation come from? Do you have mentors you look up to?

Sydney: My determination comes from my family. My grandfather was a chemist who finished his degree at UC Berkeley after being rejected by other schools because of his skin color, at a time when it was unheard of for people like him to get a chemistry degree. His wife was a math teacher, and my dad became an electrical engineer. My mom’s dad is an amazing architect, and she became one of the few black female licensed architects in Texas. I have some role models in physics, but nothing compared to how my family has influenced me. I truly do wish I did have a female physics mentor in college, but it just didn't happen for me.

Nicole: What kind of hardships did you face in ballet and physics?

Sydney: I was told that ballet isn’t for black people, because no artistic director is going to cast you due to the way your body develops. It really hurt, but I could not get this dream out of my head so I was not going to stop. With physics, I never really felt welcome until I joined the Women in Physics group at Utah. People thought I was way too ambitious, that I wouldn’t be able to do Physics because I’m not smart enough, that I should change my major. My dad was very encouraging, he told me I could do whatever I wanted, he was my rock.

Nicole: What advice would you give to women who look up to you and want to follow your path?

Sydney: I want all the women out there to know there were times when I was ready to quit, but things started changing when I started believing in myself. I still struggled, I felt imposter syndrome, but I persisted. Find a female mentor who will encourage you, reach out to people and form study groups, find other women you can relate to. My time in undergrad would have been so much easier if I could have done this more.

Nicole: Now that your undergrad days are over, what’s next for you?

Sydney: On top of sleeping regularly, I’m focused on dancing for now. Physics will always be there, but you can only dance professionally for so long because your knees only have so much cartilage. I’ve moved to New York City, which has always been my dream. I go to auditions every single day; sometimes you get cut just from your resume, but you learn how not to take it seriously. I’ve just booked a show, and I’m considering a contract from a ballet company, which is every dancer’s dream!

You can follow Sydney on social media:
Twitter: @Syd_Duncan
Instagram: @SydneyDuncanOnEm
*Nicole Cabrera Salazar is a recent astronomy PhD graduate from Georgia State University. She is also a member of the Committee for the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA).

This interview is part of a series of posts on the Astronomy In Color blog dedicated to recognizing outstanding achievements by astronomers of color. Feel free to contact Jorge Moreno (csmachairmoreno AT gmail.com) if you know any other person of color in astronomy who should be featured.

Monday, March 20, 2017

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

This piece was originally posted on my personal blog, and was written in response to the annual conversations I have with students of color facing a remarkably common variety of microaggression following major accomplishments like winning awards or earning fellowships. 

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!

This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:



It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic." 

Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 NSF GRFP Awardees and Honorable Mentions

All of us at Astronomy in Color wish to extend our congratulations to the winners of this year's NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. We are so very proud of you!

Awardees:
Munazza Alam (CUNY Hunter College --> Harvard University)
Dany Atallah (California State University, Long Beach)
Felipe Ardila (University of Florida --> Princeton University)
Aida Behmard (Yale Behmard)
Theron Carmichael (University of California, Santa Cruz --> Harvard University)
Ataxia Cruz (University of Colorado at Boulder --> University of Washington)
Ivanna Escala (University of California, San Diego --> California Institute of Technology)
Erin Flowers (Columbia University)
Juliana García Mejía (Harvard University)
Ignacio Magaña Hernández (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Amber Medina (New Mexico State University --> Harvard University)
Brittany Miles (University of California, Los Angeles --> University of California, Santa Cruz)
Malena Rice (University of California, Berkeley)
Guadalupe Tovar (University of Washington)
Samantha Walker (Fordham University --> University of Colorado at Boulder)

Honorable Mentions:
Dillon Dong (Pomona College --> California Institute of Technology)
Delilah Gates (University of Maryland --> Harvard University)
Jennifer Kadowaki (University of California, Los Angeles --> University of Arizona)
Dhaneshvaran Krishnarao (American University --> University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Goni Halevi (University of California, Berkeley)
Noah Rivera (California State University, San Bernardino)

Additions/corrections are very welcome. Thank you!


Contact: Prof. Jorge Moreno, CSMA Chair (csmachairmoreno AT gmail.com)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Summary of the Town Hall on Racism in Astronomy

Summary of the AAS 226th Town Hall on Racism in Astronomy
Photograph taken by Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
On behalf of the CSMA and its members, Chair Moreno takes full responsibility of the outcomes of this event and the contents of this post. The current political climate, and the adverse effects on his family and his community, influenced his inability to write on this important issue in a timely manner. He conveys his sincere apologies for the delay of this post. 

Downloadable PDF slides from the Town Hall on Racism, as well as the accompanying poster “I wish my white colleagues knew...”, and photographs of the event can be found here:


Authors: Prof. Jorge Moreno and Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar

The Town Hall on Racism in Astronomy was organized and sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA). This event took place on January 4th, 2017, at the 229th AAS Meeting  in Grapevine, Texas; it lasted an hour and had between 1500 and 2000 astronomers in attendance.

The central goal of this event was to spark conversations on the problem of racism in astronomy. We recognize that, by construction, this event could not address this important issue with the depth it deserves. Having only one hour to discuss this topic was challenging, especially with such a large audience and wide range of cognizance on the subject. Nevertheless, we believe that this was an important step in our efforts to confront racism in astronomy.

The panel was composed solely of CSMA members: Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar, Prof. Adam Burgasser, and Prof. Jorge Moreno (CSMA Chair). Prof. John Asher Johnson was scheduled to appear as well, but was unable to attend the AAS meeting this year. We acknowledge Prof. Johnson and the rest of the CSMA for their help in developing the discussions for the Town Hall, as well as all the volunteers who helped facilitate this event.

We acknowledge that this event was held on occupied Indigenous land. We also take this opportunity to acknowledge civil rights activists throughout history, as well as activists in astronomy, who have challenged and continue to challenge colonialism, racism, and other axes of oppression in our community. This event would not have taken place without your labor. Thank you!

The Town Hall on Racism: Axiom, Goals, Structure and Resources

The entire event hinged on the following Town Hall Axiom:

We operate under the assumption that all people are created equal. If given the same choices and opportunities, all people will make choices that lead to beneficial life outcomes. Thus, any disparate and insidious outcome (e.g. astro demographics) is not natural/intrinsic, but created/extrinsic.

Goals:
To provide a safe space for people of color where their experience is recognized and validated.
To provide a moderated space for conversations in order to confront racism in our field.
To introduce basic anti-racism concepts and address common misconceptions.
To confront members of the dominant group with the problem of racism as a white problem.
To invite the community to continue the work of dismantling racism in astronomy.

Structure:
Introductions.
Acknowledgement that this event took place on stolen Indigenous land.
Town Hall Axiom on equal rights.
Safe space centered on people of color (POC): POC may recuse themselves, white people are required to stay.
Statistics on the overrepresentation of white folks in astronomy.
Statistics on mass incarceration and its effect on people of color, especially Black people and their communities.
Introduction of three words: Race, Power and Racism.
Inclusive Astronomy Ground Rules.
Instructions for volunteers to monitor conversations and intervene if necessary.
Small group discussions on three words: Race, Power and Racism.
Audience discussion and Q&A moderated by panelists.
Non-exhaustive list of resources by social scientists and activists of color.
Final Remarks.

Was our goal accomplished?
We believe so. Facilitators and members of the audience reported that conversations proceeded openly and respectfully. POC felt acknowledged, supported, heard, and safe. Senior POC expressed enthusiasm for this long overdue event. Incidents involving white audience members taking too much air were mitigated by intervention from the panelists. Undergraduate students of color, many of whom have participated in activism in their campuses, felt energized. Chair Moreno also reported conversations with senior people in the field, many of whom are excited to “do more” to confront racism at their institutions. Overall, we deemed this to be an important step towards fighting racism in astronomy.

Nevertheless, we recognize that this event was far from perfect. Based on conversations with the community, in the future we seek to improve by attempting the following:

1 Request more time. This can be accomplished with a combination of a plenary and half-day workshops.
2 Provide opportunities for more high-level POC-centered (less 101/white-centered) discussions.
3 Invite non-CSMA paid experts to lead plenary-style discussions.
4 Provide broader recognition of activists in STEM - especially in astronomy - not just social scientists.

We acknowledge the valuable contributions of fellow astronomers and physicists of color in speaking and writing about racism in these fields, as well as the time and energy they spend mentoring, advocating for, and fighting for students of color in these disciplines. We encourage community members - especially white folks - to seek out, recognize, and reward their vital but often under-appreciated work; and more importantly, to do your share of that work. Our list of resources and ideas below highlights the work of some of these people, as well as the work by a few "white accomplices". Additions to this list are very welcome.

Resources and Ideas:

Facebook Groups for Astronomers:
Astronomy Allies
AWM: Astronomer Woman Mom
Black Women+ in Physics & Astronomy
Equity & Inclusion in Physics & Astronomy
Latinx Scholars
LGBTIQ Physicists, Astrophysicists & Astronomers and Allies
Old Girls Network in Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics

Disclaimer: The above lists are not to be construed as endorsement by the authors.

We invite the community to send us your ideas, criticisms, and resources so we can improve in the future.


Contact
Prof. Jorge Moreno, CSMA Chair (csmachairmoreno AT gmail.com)