Monday, December 28, 2015

A remarkable year

2015 was the most remarkable year for social justice and equity in science and society that I can remember over more than 50 years. I was a child during the civil rights era of the 1960s and recall my wonder at the marches and protests of those days, the social upheaval, and the juxtaposition of hope and sorrow. The last two years have brought a similar sense of wonder, and as I reflected on this year, I realized that so much has happened the only historical comparison I have is with the events of my childhood. For women, men, and gender-nonconforming people in astronomy and in society, the remarkable pace, breadth and depth of change this year is worth remarking on in these pages.

AAS President Meg Urry summarized much of the 2015 gender equity in astronomy experience in a recent column. As one of the organizers of the first Women in Astronomy meeting in Baltimore and coauthor of the Baltimore Charter, and now as AAS President, Meg has set the standard for impact as a scientist and leader. Her perspectives on what has been accomplished, and on what remains to be done, should be read by every scientist and engineer, in every field.

2015 was the year that sexual harassment in astronomy finally became something spoken about boldly in public rather than nervously in private. Geoff Marcy's resignation from UC Berkeley has put not only harassers, but the universities that employ them, on notice that the scientific community will not accept sexual harassment. The CSWA, especially its former chair Joan Schmelz, have played a major service in helping bring to light such harassment. However, this is not a time to celebrate the end of harassment, it is a time to continue rooting out predatory and discriminatory behavior from astronomy and other professions.

2015 was also a year for the advancement of not just heterosexual cisgender women, but lesbian and transgender women. The US Supreme Court's ruling in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges was a remarkable step forward for our nation. The first laws protecting gay marriage were passed and upheld only about a decade ago in Massachusetts; few of us expected such rapid acceptance by law and culture. Transgender rights still are not fully covered, but the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner has done much to advance the conversation. Although these events are not directly about astronomy, they affect the experience of people in astronomy, and raise the standards for our profession to be inclusive and welcoming of all people. The Inclusive Astronomy conference was a major step forward in advancing the concept of full inclusion in the scientific profession. In hindsight it is possible to see this as a pioneering conference just like the inaugural Women in Astronomy conference of 1992.

And let us recognize the power of social media and protest in furthering human rights, not merely in the developing world, but in the most developed nations. In 2015, many of us at colleges and universities in the US have witnessed the power of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its spinoff demands to eliminate racism on our campuses. This year, the native Hawiian movement has halted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

These movements go beyond gender equality, but they surely impact women and men in astronomy, and provide a remarkable legacy from which others will look back in 50 years.
. She was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. - See more at: http://physics.yale.edu/news/meg-urry-israel-munson-professor-physics-astronomy-was-awarded-2012-george-van-biesbroeck-prize#sthash.Z24rDs5s.
he was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. In addition to encouraging many young women s - See more at: http://physics.yale.edu/news/meg-urry-israel-munson-professor-physics-astronomy-was-awarded-2012-george-van-biesbroeck-prize#sthash.wHhZNRpX.dpuf
he was one of the five original organizers of the first “Women in Astronomy” meeting in Baltimore, was coauthor of the “Baltimore Charter” and persuaded the AAS council to endorse the charter’s goals. She also organized the second of these meetings in Pasadena in 2003. In addition to encouraging many young women s - See more at: http://physics.yale.edu/news/meg-urry-israel-munson-professor-physics-astronomy-was-awarded-2012-george-van-biesbroeck-prize#sthash.wHhZNRpX.dpuf