Equity and Inclusion

The Department of Physics and Astronomy stand in solidarity with those who seek to end the ongoing disregard for and dehumanization of Black lives. We recognize that the injustices and brutality perpetrated against Black Americans with shocking regularity is symptomatic of a deeply embedded systemic racism within our society. We fully endorse the recent comments by our president, Biddy Martin, and wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement. Although we mourn recent and past atrocities, we are newly invigorated by the national movement, and will continue to work to create a more just and inclusive community in our department, at Amherst College, and more broadly. 

We acknowledge that our discipline and department have much work to do in achieving a fully inclusive environment. We will continue to examine and revise our curriculum and pedagogies to make them inclusive and accessible, with particular attention to combating anti-Black racism in our field. In light of recent events, we will redouble our efforts towards creating a culture in which all who study physics feel supported and valued. Accordingly, we commit to taking these specific actions:

  • We will presently complete a departmental self-assessment, following the American Institute of Physics guidelines, and will create a plan of action to address any categories in which we can improve.
  • We will enhance the role of the Physics and Astronomy Climate and Community Committee (CCC) to provide a regular departmental forum to discuss issues and plan future actions related to equity and inclusion, with special attention to anti-racist efforts. 
  • We will work with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion or an external consultant to conduct a departmental climate survey, in addition to our departmental self-assessment. This climate survey will specifically consider departmental policies whose effects create unintended or unequal burdens for our students.
  • We will hold a departmental retreat in the summer of 2021 with a focus on inclusive pedagogical practices in physics and astronomy. We will contract with internal and external experts to conduct workshops and share ideas at this retreat.
  • If possible in this time of global pandemic, we will seek to bring in a speaker to give a department-wide seminar on anti-racism in physics and astronomy during this academic year, with appropriate recognition and compensation for their time and expertise.
  • We will pay explicit and close attention to issues of equity and inclusion in the fields of Physics and Astronomy in our courses.  We will highlight contributions of scientists from traditionally excluded backgrounds, both historically and in the present day.
  • We will establish an annual lecture series that invites an early career Black physicist or astronomer (graduate student or postdoc) to campus for a visit. The invited speakers will receive an honorarium, and will give a departmental seminar on their research and hold a discussion about their academic path with students. Faculty in the department will meet via Zoom with the speaker in advance of their visit to provide mentoring around giving talks to a mostly undergraduate audience, and will engage with the visitor regarding the experience of being a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution. 

We acknowledge that these actions are small steps, and that more work will be needed at the individual, department, and college levels. Above all, we pledge to do the work of educating ourselves in actively anti-racist practices, to regularly collect feedback on and address issues of department culture, and to acknowledge and support students who bear extra cognitive and emotional burdens due to systematic oppression.