Student Initiatives

The Society of Physics Students and its members began diversity and inclusion activism in the physics department in fall 2015 and have since remained deeply involved in department affairs. On this page, we will start to compile a history of present and past efforts, in order to help future SPS exec boards plan future initiatives. See our articles page for more complete reportage and op-eds about our department.

Long-term Society of Physics Students priorities:

  1. Recruiting a set of students to the physics major and minor that is more reflective of the demographics of the undergraduate student body as a whole
  2. Advocating for changes to ensure that the Physics Department climate allows every student interested in physics to thrive
  3. Helping supplement the department in providing students the academic and professional resources they need to succeed in their physics-related endeavors

Recent department changes

  1. The hiring of 2 women and 2 nonwhite tenure-track faculty (prior to the beginning of activism, there were 0 women and 2 nonwhite faculty)
  2. Increased department ADA accessibility
  3. Initiatives to draw a more diverse set of students into the major and make sure everyone has the tools they need to be successful, including proposals for new interdisciplinary majors/tracks, guest speakers, and SPS outreach projects

We are always looking for further input on how to improve the physics department and how to make sure it meets the needs of its students. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

(Also see here for a list of StudLife articles about the department)

2017-18 school year

  • SPS initiatives
    1. Pushing for accelerated timeline for physics buildings’ ADA accessibility (e.g. here, was in contact with Provost), e.g.
      • new power-access exterior door
      • doors between Crow/Compton Halls open until 11 p.m.
      • pushing for full accessibility in 2019-21 major construction
    2. Interdisciplinary physics major proposals to attract a broader set of students to physics courses (link)
      • Astrophysics & space sciences
      • Biophysics
      • Applied math & mathematical physics
    3. Preservation of the physics library (link)
    4. General outreach to the school, providing equal access to physics information (expanding websitesocial media, events)
    5. Continued SPS involvement in efforts to improve department climate and diversity
  • Notes about faculty/department
    • continued women in physics meetings
    • campus faculty – required online diversity training
    • Physics Department successfully recruits two female tenure-track nuclear theorists, increasing the amount of female tenure-track faculty by an infinite percentage. Many congratulations!
    • Speaker: Dr. Renee Horton (spring)
    • Physics Department Faculty approve astrophysics major. It will now be going to the Arts & Sciences curriculum committee, who hopefully will make it a reality by fall!

2016-17 academic year

  • Outreach to student body
    • SPS got domain, began to build website to ensure equal access to physics information
    • SPS began Facebook account (“Washu Physics Club”) for campus outreach
    • SPS began Choc Talk Series (chalk talks with chocolate) for undergrads to present, learn about research in low-pressure setting
    • SPS continued efforts to make physics opportunities, bias reporting resources more known to undergraduates
    • SPS continued discussions on improving department climate (through demonstrations, conversations with department, undergraduate diversity committee members)
  • Notes about changes with faculty
    • WU administration offers special retirement package for professors over 65 in all departments; many physics faculty accept
    • SPS continued discussions with department about need for attracting diverse candidates in faculty searches
    • SPS led a campus-wide email and Facebook campaigns, as well as put up two large poster demonstrations in the main Compton hallway to get the physics faculty to respond to an Op-Ed by a physics professor claiming there had been no discrimination in the department against women, and suggesting that the reason for fewer women in physics might be geneticThere were responses by the administration, a letter by 24 physics faculty members, and numerous op-eds by community members in the newspaper.
    • SPS policy on campus-wide concerns
      • Background: ongoing issues well-known in department, crop up once every few years as a campus-wide concern (because the student body is completely new every 4 years)
      • Policy: physics majors’ efforts better spent putting ongoing pressure on the department to make public response than always being the public face of progress on these issues
      • Rationale: need to prioritize getting faculty/staff to take responsibility and make public statements to fix the department situation in the long term. Website, email list, and Facebook should be enough – don’t necessarily need Op-Ed.
    • Spoke with department about Jonathan Katz; his website articles are now no longer on the domain
  • Diversity and inclusion events in the department
    • Physics majors dinner
    • Women in physics breakfasts/lunches
    • Vice Provost Adrienne Davis hosted forum with (only) physics undergraduate and graduate students to discuss ongoing issues in department
    • Speaker: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (fall)
    • Speaker: Meg Urry (spring)
    • For the first time, undergrads elected their representatives to the diversity committee (decide it will be SPS president + 2 other reps)

2015-16 academic year

  • Beginning of diversity activism
    • WU Dis-Orientation guide released anonymous article Physics + Females detailing department diversity/inclusion problems
    • SPS printed and distributed article to all faculty/staff/student mailboxes as well as slid under administration’s doors
    • SPS conducted multiple flyer, poster, email campaigns in the department to raise awareness; in contact with the department and WU administration from 2015 onwards
  • Changing the department climate
    • SPS officers in constant communication with students, faculty, administration
    • Physics Department started Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee in fall 2015, SPS secured 3 seats for undergrads
    • Department started Women in Physics breakfasts
    • Department works to ensure diverse set of speakers
  • Broader campus engagement
    • Student Union issued “Resolution Regarding Faculty Inclusion” calling upon administration to deal with issues of faculty harassment of students, lack of faculty/staff/invited speaker diversity (SPS officer on Senate was co-author)
  • Biophysics and Astrophysics Faculty Searches
    • SPS held half-hour meetings with the candidates and gave feedback to the department
    • SPS – regular postings, board chalkings, etc. with relevant statistics about diversity in other physics departments
    • SPS officers regularly advertised about faculty candidate colloquia, encourage more undergraduates to attend
    • Students held a sit-in at a pre-colloquium coffee to raise awareness about lack of diversity in the department

Washington University SPS