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. This is not an official statement by the American Astronomical Society nor the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy and should not be construed as such.

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