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:

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)

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 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!

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

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.

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.

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.

Prof. Jorge Moreno, CSMA Chair (csmachairmoreno AT

Monday, January 30, 2017

Statement on the “Muslim Ban”

Dear fellow astronomers,

Three days ago, the POTUS signed an executive order to initiate a 90-day immigration suspension for all people born in the following Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. These countries are majority Muslim, making this ban unconstitutional on the grounds of religious freedom. The impact of this order is further exacerbated by the public call to prioritize cases involving Christians, which sends the signal that this is faith-based discrimination.

The “Muslim Ban” has already caused immigrants, even those with permanent residency in the U.S., to be detained at airports all around the country without due process, without food or water in some cases, and without rightful access to their lawyers. On Saturday, a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union led U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly to successfully block a portion of the executive order, forbidding the U.S. government from deporting any “lawful” immigrants arriving after the ban was issued. However, immigrants from those countries are still prohibited from entering the U.S.

These discriminatory acts are detrimental to our Muslim colleagues in a variety of ways. Public stigma may prevent those already in the U.S. from traveling safely within the country while the ban forbids them from traveling abroad, potentially missing interviews, conferences, observing runs, and of course preventing them from being united with family members outside the U.S. Likewise, colleagues from these seven aforementioned countries will be restricted from exercising professional and personal activities on U.S. soil. Above all, the mental, physical, and emotional toll that will be experienced by our Muslim colleagues is damaging their safety, work and livelihood.

As members of the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), we vehemently oppose this ban, a discriminatory act by the U.S. government against our Muslim students, colleagues and friends. We stand with all Muslim people and extend our solidarity to our Muslim colleagues in Astronomy. We will do whatever we can to support and protect you.

Dr. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Prof. Jorge Moreno
Dr. Lia Corrales
Charee Peters
Prof. Jillian Bellovary
Prof. John Asher Johnson
Prof. Kim Coble
Prof. Adam Burgasser
Prof. Alyson Brooks

The above signatories are private citizens exercising their constitutional right to express their personal views. This is not an official statement by the CSMA nor the AAS and should not be construed as such.

Links and resources
Prof. Jorge Moreno, CSMA Chair (csmachairmoreno AT