Actions for OSU Physics & Astronomy

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The following items are actions that people in the Physics/Astronomy Department communities urge department leaders to execute. These items have been collated from the Strike for Black Lives Call-to-Action document, the anonymous survey responses, discussions at the Call-to-Action town hall, and related documents from other departments around the country.

Actions to take listed in no particular order:

  • Create a Vice-Chair position specifically for addressing issues of equity and inclusion.
  • Develop strategies for addressing inequities inherent in our admission criteria, such as access to research and bias in letters of recommendation. Remove standardized testing requirements for admission to both the graduate and undergraduate programs. Create a public rubric for letters of recommendation, as well as a list of common pitfalls (and ways to avoid them) that letter writers make when writing about people from marginalized communities. Seek outside expertise on how to accomplish these things.
  • Develop concrete goals related to improving department climate and diversity in the near and long term. Create 2-year goals, 5-year goals, 10-year goals, etc. Come up with a strategic plan to make these goals happen and get input from the community at large about what these goals should look like. Put the onus of completing these goals on department leadership not on people from marginalized groups within the department. Each semester, communicate progress made on these goals to the department at large.
  • Require equity and inclusion training for GTAs as well as for instructors who teach first-year undergraduate courses
  • Overhaul the first-year undergraduate courses to be consistent with PER methodology. Develop shared resources and community building between first-year instructors that center PER-driven teaching methods and equity for students. Ensure that first-year instructors are our best teachers, BUT do not rely on often-biased SEI information to determine which teachers are “best”; instead, judge adherence to PER-driven methodology in making this determination. Do NOT use first-year courses as weed-out “opportunities”.
  • Hold faculty accountable for toxic advisor-advisee relationships, including creating pathways for students to call attention to toxic behavior with a robust support network that addresses the realities of retaliation. Require written agreements between advisors and advisees that address expected working hours, accommodations for medical/religious/personal needs of both parties, etc. Recruit neutral persons to review these agreements and ensure that all parties are cooperating. Develop transparent and specific plans for when faculty break these agreements. 
  • Fund trips to conferences that center people from marginalized communities. 
  • Create scholarships to support people in marginalized communities. 
  • Do more to support Bridge program students after they arrive here, including community-building activities and mentoring (with trained mentors).
  • Recruit outside expertise to develop effective mentor training, including training for faculty to be effective mentors toward students and training students to be effective peer mentors. As part of these trainings, include ways to address issues affecting people of color and people from other marginalized communities. 
  • Credit people - especially students - for any work they do related to equity, up to and including compensation.
  • Make it a priority to hire more women and people of color as faculty. 
  • Overhaul the Climate and Diversity Committee, which currently functions as a way for the Physics Department to look good without actually accomplishing anything. C&D currently leans too heavily on student groups like SWiP and PGSC to do the work-related, committee-generated ideas and it includes people on the committee who actively and often contribute to the toxic environment affecting women and people of color in the department. Members of C&D should be required to complete sensitivity training and there should be a more straightforward way of contacting the committee, including a C&D-specific email address and/or a physical dropbox that is checked often. C&D should also be active during the summer term and there should be equal representation of all interested parties on the committee, not more faculty than anyone else.
  • Partner with local community colleges and high schools to create clear pathways for students interested in physics/astronomy to join our community. 
  • Do more to support student mental health concerns. Hold instructors accountable for providing ample accommodations for students who need them, including extensions on assignments and exams even without doctors’ notes. Create limits on the amount of out-of-class work students are required to complete in addition to their research and teaching obligations. 
  • Include physics/astronomy history content in classes/seminars as well as how this history collides with equity issues. 
  • Recognize that most diversity efforts primarily benefit white women and that this is not good enough. Be cognizant of the fact that these efforts need to center people of color in order to be successful.

Additional resources for department leadership as they execute these actions: