Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Becoming Inclusive

Jessica Mink writes astronomical
software at the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory



It's getting harder to decide whether to commit to conferences, what with the Texas Senate having passed SB6, the discriminatory bill about which I wrote in January. The possibility that the Speaker of the Texas House might be unable to stop its momentum delayed my registration for Women in Astronomy IV in Austin for a while, but I'll be there on a panel discussing our Inclusive Astronomy Recommendations. As a member of a class which seems to be under siege in much of the United(?) States, I have found that the best way to gain allies is to be an ally to as many groups as I can. Making astronomy more diverse and inclusive has become a major goal of my professional life.

In the other long-term activist part of my life, I have learned that if you want to make progress, there are three levels of work: 1) as an individual, 2) as part of a group with agreed-upon goals, and 3) inside the system. I don't mind meetings, so I tend to try to do all three. In addition to simply being my intersectional self, I've been working both within the American Astronomical Society as a member of both the Committee on the Status of Women (CSWA) and the Committee for Sexual orientation and Gender identity Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA), and outside, on the organizing committee for Inclusive Astronomy (IA).

A few months ago, I gave a presentation connecting our activities as a profession to better include LGBTQ+ astronomers to the National Organization of Lesbian and Gay Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) at their "Out to Innovate" conference, which this year was held conveniently near my home base of Boston. At that meeting, I learned that astronomy is ahead of other STEM disciplines in that we're trying to include not just one group excluded by gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, but to look at barriers which can affect any of them.

Within the AAS, our Diversity Committees, CSWA, SGMA, Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), and Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD) have worked together to advise the AAS Council on how to remove barriers to AAS activities. These have included new policies on inclusive and accessible meeting locations and optional gender identity tags for conference badges.

Since our conference in 2015, the Inclusive Astronomy group has put together "Inclusive Astronomy: The Nashville Recommendations", the vision of which the AAS Council has endorsed. We have enumerated under four broad areas a number of specific actions that all of us can take to make astronomy more inclusive:
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.
The full recommendations document describes in detail many things that can be done do move toward our goal. People (and departments and institutions) should commit to taking specific actions; we have set up a page where those commitments can be registered. A number of people have already added their activities, but we need to see more. The posting process is not yet automated, so we ask people to put their information for the table in a comment on that page, and we'll add it. A web form is in the works and will be linked here as soon as I get it debugged. And if you're at Women in Astronomy IV, come to our panel at 11am on Friday, June 9.