Thursday, January 28, 2016

(un)Accessible Astronomy: Ableism in Science

My self-directed, community-supported (re)education about US-American society has fueled my focus on, and pursuit of, social justice. I believe that a just society allows all members to have equal opportunities for success in life, and equal access to social, political and economic opportunities and power. This should be regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion—and sadly that's where these statements of social justice too often end. What is often missing, even in my own thinking until relatively recently, is an acknowledgement that physical and mental dis ability must be included in this list

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Expert's View of Changing Academic Culture

In what follows I provide some background and setup for a strong endorsement of Prof. Katie Hinde's exemplary, pitch-perfect, framework-shifting essay "Work in Progress: Changing Academic Culture." It's arguments and lessons will stay with me for a lifetime. And just in case that's not enough of an endorsement, here's my intro, in which I, among other things, brag about knowing the author :-)

Prof Katie Hinde in the field in Namibia
When I arrived at Harvard, I was contacted by a Prof. Katie Hinde from the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB). It turned out that one of her students was partnered with one of my students. Small world! She had also read my blog post on The simple power of presence in even modest numbers, which really resonated with her. She invited me to coffee and we quickly figured out that we were kindred spirits. 

I am honored to have Prof. Hinde as one of my true friends, and given all the amazing professional and personal advice she's given me, she's also one of my academic mentors. Over the years I have picked up many key concepts and much valuable vocabulary from my conversations with Katie. I've also learned a ton about lactation, field research, and working with temperamental rhesus monkeys. Plus, the Johnsons are big fans of the Mammal March Madness!  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Required reading for those who prioritize diversity

In the title, I use the word "prioritize" purposefully. Most, if not all educational institutions have statements on their webpages that say that they value diversity, while assigning themselves the label "equal-opportunity employer," or some such. But among the most important lessons I've learned in my academic career is that words are less than cheap. What are less than rare are actions that would increase diversity by addressing barriers to it, backed by funding and effort. This shortfall of actual effort is nothing short of a crisis of leadership so extensive, so old, and so well-practiced that it is institutionalized (James Baldwin wrote on it in 1984). Indeed, this crisis is a key pillar of institutional *isms; inaction as action that supports the status quo. 

Where we can find vibrant leadership—actual active leading instead of labels—is among the voices of color in academia. They (we) have a vantage point, a perspective borne of daily experience that gives them (us) an epistemic clarity on the mechanisms that privilege some while oppressing others. This view is, of course, shared by those living along other oppressed axes, and at the intersections thereof. One of our most powerful, intelligent, knowledgable voices is that of Dr. Chanda Prescod Weinstein (@IBJIYONGI), whom I have featured on this blog previously. It is her writing that constitutes the required reading mentioned in my title above.

Other lessons I've learned are that leaders rarely deliver messages that are greeted with open arms by the majority (if ever). Also strong leadership requires a clear view of problems and the courage to make demands of those who comprise the institutional status quo to change and do better. Finally, leaders courageously press their message despite the inevitable push-back and backlash. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein does this vital work, and much, much more.