Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Nashville Recommendations for Inclusive Astronomy

In June 2015, 160 astronomers, sociologists, policy makers and community leaders convened the first Inclusive Astronomy meeting at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, TN. The goal of this meeting was to discuss the issues affecting people of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer/genderfluid, agender, intersex, queer, questioning, or asexual (LGBTIQA*) people; people with disabilities; women; people disenfranchised by their socio-economic status; and everyone who holds more than one of these underrepresented identities in the astronomical community.  A key focus of this meeting was examination of issues of intersectionality: the well-established conceptualization that racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and ableism are often linked (e.g., that women of color are faced with the intersection of racism and sexism).  Here is a summary of the final version which the AAS Council has endorsed.
The full Inclusive Astronomy 2015 Recommendations are available here.

Inclusive Astronomy Vision Statement

The problem

The demographics of our nation are changing, but professional Astronomy is not keeping pace. Only 2.1% of astronomers identify as Black or African-American and 3.2% as Hispanic, Latina/o, or of Spanish origin and extremely few are Native or indigenous (AIP, 2014). Disappointingly, these numbers for Physics and Astronomy have remained essentially constant between 2004 and 2012. This underrepresentation is most acute in leadership roles and on the key committees that shape the future of our field.

This  underrepresentation for people of color is reminiscent of that experienced by women in decades past, and this gives cause for hope. White women have made great progress in Astronomy since the 1992 Baltimore Charter, owing in large part to the courageous leadership of those women and their allies who rallied the community and organized action, including the 1992 Baltimore Women in Astronomy meeting, the 2003 Pasadena Women in Astronomy II meeting, and the 2009 Goddard Women in Astronomy meeting. While the accomplishments of women continue to be systematically undervalued and they remain underrepresented in senior leadership positions, the gains made over the past 25 years served as inspiration for an inaugural Inclusive Astronomy 2015 meeting in Nashville, focusing not only on women but on all underrepresented individuals.

Much of the work toward equity and inclusion in Astronomy has focused on single dimensions of identity. However, a one-dimensional approach leaves behind people with more than one marginalized identity. Intersectionality is the well-established concept that different forms of discrimination intersect for people with multiple marginalized identities; identity and oppression are matrices, not scalars. But the significant underrepresentation of individuals with particular intersectional identities can magnify marginalization with the additional challenges of isolation and lack of common voices for advocacy. For example, in 2012, there were fewer than 75 faculty members in Physics or Astronomy in the United States who are both female and African-American or Hispanic.

There are little data available on the numbers or experiences of persons with disabilities in astronomy, but anecdotal reports make clear that people with disabilities still experience significant lack of access to both physical spaces and to the tools of the profession. Similarly, there are little data published on LGBTIQA* individuals in Astronomy, but studies in other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields point out negative experiences and outcomes for these groups. In one study, LGBT professionals in STEM and military-related federal agencies were found to be more underrepresented and report more negative outcomes in workplace experience than those in non-STEM agencies, despite federal protections and formalized advancement procedures.  LGBTIQA* scientists are far less likely to be open about their sexual and gender orientation than are individuals in the wider population, a situation linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout,.   Asian Americans in Astronomy are often overlooked in discussions of inclusivity, but data highlight pervasive stereotyping and reveal that Asian Americans are disproportionately excluded from leadership positions.

As these examples suggest, the ongoing underrepresentation of individuals from various groups is not just a problem of experiences and barriers within our profession. We live in societies that host systemic biases and power differences based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status, and class.  As we work for equity and inclusion in our field, we cannot ignore the broader society and the negative impacts it produces on current and potential colleagues from historically marginalized groups. We can repair the “leaky pipeline” within our profession only by also understanding the broader society within which our profession operates, the lived experiences of our students and colleagues when they are “out in the world”, and the biases that we all bring with us from the broader society into the places where astronomers work and learn. Indeed, most astronomers who are some combination of female, LGBTIQA*, disabled, or a person of color, can tell stories of overt discrimination, microaggressions, and hostile climate; the literature tells that same story. The situation is clear: Astronomy must become more inclusive.

Our vision: Astronomy can and must become inclusive.

Creating a more inclusive field is not just the right thing to do: The current lack of diversity and inclusivity within Astronomy harms our profession. Research shows that diversity leads to greater innovation, more creative thinking, and higher quality science. The breadth of knowledge and experience brought by people of color, women, LGBTIQA* people, people with disabilities, other traditionally marginalized individuals -- and most particularly, anyone who shares more than one of these identities -- is necessary to achieve our full potential for discovery and exploration, and to recruit and retain the many creative minds we need to solve fundamental questions about the Universe. Making Astronomy more inclusive and thus diverse is also necessary for maintaining the appreciation of our field by the increasingly diverse public who fund our exploration.

We believe that people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities are capable of doing excellent science and shaping the future of our discipline.  We know that identity is intersectional, and we see connections among barriers facing communities of color, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTIQA* people in science.  We believe in equal opportunity.   We share a vision of a more inclusive, more productive profession. We know that true inclusion and diversity require hard work from individual astronomers, organizations, and our profession as a whole to re-examine our professional culture, modify our existing practices, and remove barriers to inclusion. We assert that progress can and should be measured, and should be pursued with the same zeal as other strategic scientific goals.  We have faith that we all -- as colleagues and as a profession -- can learn and improve.

We invite all to join in the hard work of creating an Inclusive Astronomy by endorsing this vision and by committing to implement the Nashville Recommendations for Inclusive Astronomy.

Our Recommendations

Our recommendations emerged as some of the first steps towards our shared goals, through the synthesis of prior work, input from community members, consultation with expert practitioners, and discussions and workshops during the conference itself. All guidelines and recommendations in this document should be interpreted in a way that benefits historically underrepresented groups.

Our recommendations presented cover the four broad topical areas that the conference addressed, namely:

1) Removing barriers to access - This topical area addresses academic barriers to educational access, such as the use of GRE scores in admissions decisions, financial barriers to graduate school application, stereotype threat, and accessibility issues that impede the ability of all students to directly participate in learning environments.

2.) Creating inclusive climates - In order to maintain diversity at astronomical institutions, it is necessary that the environment be inclusive. This topical area addresses microaggressions, how to honor diversity without tokenization, effective and accessible teaching methods, and effective mentoring.

3.) Improving inclusion and access to power, policy, and leadership -This topical area provides astronomers with strategies on how to play a role in decisions affecting the astronomical community and how people in power can be more inclusive in their decision making.

4.) Establishing a community of inclusive practice - This topical area provides techniques for astronomers to take active rather than passive measures to ensure that their groups, events and institutions are inclusive.

See the full Inclusive Astronomy 2015 Recommendations.

The organizers of the inaugural Inclusive Astronomy conference wish to acknowledge generous financial support from the National Science Foundation, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Associated Universities Inc., the American Astronomical Society, Vanderbilt University, and the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program. Furthermore, we wish to thank those involved at every level of conception, planning and execution of the conference and these recommendations.

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