Student Life article about SPS: Students push for creation of new interdisciplinary science majors
In a Letter to the Editor appearing in Student Life on 24 April 2017, 24 physics faculty members wrote:
We strongly disagree with the thoughts expressed by Jonathan Katz in his April 16, 2017 op-ed contribution to Student Life. As faculty members of the physics department, we are saddened that our colleague uses his position to tell “serious students” what they ought to do and what they ought to feel, implying that students voicing concerns are not serious scientists. We are outraged that he invokes biological differences rather than historical and structural obstacles for the underrepresentation of women in many STEM disciplines. Denying the existence of a problem delays the initiation of suitable countermeasures. Furthermore, we strongly reject the homophobic views that he has expressed publicly in the past and from which he has not distanced himself. We are committed to identifying and changing structural barriers and a culture that suppresses and delays gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic and racial diversity. A diverse community is desirable in itself and has higher potential for making paradigm-changing discoveries.
Mark G. Alford
James H. Buckley
Anders E. Carlsson
Willem H. Dickhoff
Martin H. Israel
Kenneth F. Kelton
Henric S. Krawczynski
James G. Miller
James S. Schilling
In a Student Life Op-Ed on 27 April 2017, the committee wrote:
Dear Washington University,
Over the course of the past month, a member of our physics department has taken to the columns of Student Life to opine on the place of diversity and women in physics. His polemic engendered quite the furor, and, in such light, we recognized the need to make clear to the Washington University community and beyond our explicit goals for rectifying the department’s lack of diversity.
At the last faculty meeting on April 18, 2017, faculty members voted on the adoption of an unambiguous diversity mission statement. With an overwhelming show of support, faculty committed to taking the following steps towards a more inclusive and equitable future: increase the fraction of women and underrepresented minorities (URMs) on the faculty; attract more female and URM students to the Ph.D. program and the undergraduate major and ensure that the department offers a welcoming and inclusive workplace climate for everyone, including women and URMs.
Beginning with the establishment of a Physics Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee, the physics department has already taken steps to construct a more inclusive department throughout the last year. The department has hosted diversity-focused speakers, established a prominent Women in Physics group and held a forum with Vice Provost Adrienne Davis where members of the department were trained in diversity and inclusion practices. The department has also made numerous offers to highly qualified female candidates and hopes to introduce diverse faculty to the department in the coming semesters.
Thus, safely speaking on behalf of the physics department as a whole, the Physics Diversity Committee would like to emphasize that we steadfastly believe every person—regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and/or sexual orientation—has equal potential to be a physicist and deserves to learn and practice physics in an environment free of discrimination, exclusion and bias. We further understand equality is not enough and believe in the practice of equity, where everyone is offered the tools and support necessary for them to succeed.
We deeply regret that certain publications and our delay in response have shaken student confidence in our department’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. We resolutely accept our part in continuing to improve the environment of physics and physics-related fields for women, underrepresented minorities and other oft marginalized demographics.
To all those interested in joining the Washington University physics department—students, staff and faculty alike—we assure you that we will continue to strive to make your experience one of both inclusion and intellectual growth, where the voices of underrepresented individuals are cherished and diversity of people and thought are celebrated.
The undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty of the Physics Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee
At Tuesday evening’s faculty meeting, the Physics Department voted on and adopted the following diversity statement:
The physics department has an unusually small proportion of women and under-represented minorities (URMs). We are working to correct this situation. Our diversity goals are:
- Increase the fraction of women and URMs on our faculty, to at least the average level of other similar departments around the country, and preferably to the fraction obtaining Ph.D.s in physics
- Attract more female and URM students to the Ph.D. program and the undergraduate major
- Ensure that the department offers a welcoming and inclusive workplace climate for everyone, including women and URMs.
“Academic freedom of expression is an essential safeguard of intellectual inquiry, and our campus will always promote the open exchange of ideas. A recent series of editorials and exchanges in Student Life regarding the lack of women in our physics department serve to remind us how differing points of view can both shed light and generate heat. We feel it is essential to take this opportunity to point out that the views expressed by the faculty contributor in no way reflect the longstanding principles that define our academic community.
This is a moment to restate our firm commitment to ensuring that our community is one where everyone feels valued and respected. We are dedicated to providing the best education possible and to preparing our students to make lasting contributions in an increasingly diverse global community. Specifically, with regard to the physics department, we are firmly committed to the following principles and goals:
- To increase our recruitment of students, staff and faculty from all populations currently underrepresented in physics
- To foster an inclusive community of learning in physics so that all students and faculty have the chance to flourish and devote themselves to the pursuit of this important discipline
- To support the free exchange of ideas in the classroom and laboratory, creating a positive environment for the pursuit of new knowledge and discoveries
- To provide a safe place for anyone in the department—student, staff or faculty—to report any type of discriminatory behavior
- To recognize that the department’s tenure-track faculty has unacceptably low gender and racial diversity, and to embrace the challenge before us and strive to improve upon the status quo
Fostering a culture of inclusion benefits all of us, whether on campus or in society at large. We do not accept the premise that certain groups are less capable than others. We strive for academic excellence, rigor and open inquiry. We want all students to know that while they will encounter a range of opinions in their time on campus, we will always uphold our basic values when it comes to creating an engaging learning environment for all of our students.
The physics department is working closely with a number of eminent advisors from across campus, from the Provost’s Office to Human Resources, to implement the best strategies that will lead to real improvements to department climate and diversity. Across all of Arts & Sciences, our goal is to create and maintain inclusive environments that benefit everyone in our academic community.
Chair of Physics
Jennifer R. Smith
Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences
Professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences
Barbara A. Schaal
Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in Biology”
The elected officers for the 2017-18 school year are:
President: Stella Schindler
Vice President: Tyler Satchel Orden
Treasurer: Ryan Wahidi
Secretary: Jon Huster
Historian: Julia Cohen
Public Relations: Jason Tang and Kos Sarfo
Webmaster: Bohan Lu
Member-at-large: Prajwal Keranahalli
Faculty Advisors: Mairin Hynes and Kater Murch
Izabella Pastrana was also elected as an undergraduate representative to the Physics Department Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee.
April 5, 2017. This is why you should join our club!
The utmost gratitude to the Eliot Society for the generous donation to us of so many tickets. The utmost gratitude to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for spending so much time speaking with us about the life of a physicist, taking photos, and giving autographs afterwards!
Congratulations to all 11 of our undergraduate physics majors who presented at the Wash. U. Undergraduate Research Symposium yesterday! You all did fantabulous work.
Check out our recently added pages on research, summer internships, grad school, and full-time employment after graduation!