One of the refrains of the summer is that the Banneker Institute is not an REU program. It's not that REU programs are bad. It's just that we've just always had different goals in mind—and we are not seeking to reinvent the wheel. While REU programs are designed to provide undergraduate students an entrée into the world of research, we aim to prepare students of color for graduate school in myriad ways including a summer research project. Since the beginning, the Banneker summer program has rested upon three pillars: research, classroom learning, and social justice education. This summer, we have articulated a set of high-level goals associated with these three pillars: Students will learn the process of research in astrophysics. Students will develop tools to describe the world as it is rather than as it has been narrated to them. Students will build and maintain a community that can sustain them through the trials of graduate school and their STEM careers beyond.
From its inception, one of the primary aims of the Banneker Institute has been to build community within astronomy that can can be supportive and even nourishing for students of color. To be sure, this is a radical proposition. The field of astronomy and the social structures upon which it is built are extensions of the structures of US society at large. And building off of those structures, solidarity is not a natural outcome. During previous summer programs, John et al. told the students that they'd like them to be in community with one another, and we even had a pledge that attempted to bring mindfulness to the values that we hoped would help us get there. Things like being greater than the sum of our parts, recognizing that things can get difficult, and standing up for each other when things get tough. This wasn't much to go on, to be honest, and the fact that so many cohorts did form a supportive community is a testament to the strength and good will of the students.