Editor’s note: I’m posting this on behalf of Kevin Flaherty, postdoctoral scholar in our department. You can find his web page on diversity in astronomy here. -RK
Diversity has been a popular topic of discussion on campuses across the country. In Astronomy, we are particularly aware of diversity, or the lack thereof, within our own field. 73% of astronomers are men, and 83% are white . Recent months have seen headlines exposing professional astronomers across the country for their sexual harassment of students. Clearly we have some work to do…
But there are signs that things are getting better. The American Astronomical Society has made strong statements in the past year reaffirming that harassment has no place within astronomy  and in support of policies that increase diversity within graduate programs . Our department is home to members of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, and the newly-formed Working Group for Astronomers with Disabilities. Over the last fifteen years the students in our Masters program were 81% female, and over the last five years, 60% persons of color .
And as of this semester, we have started a Diversity Journal Club. Inspired by similar efforts across the country , the focus of a Diversity Journal Club is on discussing published research on demographics, sources of bias, methods to counteract bias, as well as topical issues such as the ongoing Thirty-Meter-Telescope construction controversy. By using social science literature, we can tackle some of these complex topics in a venue where students, faculty and postdocs are able to freely share their ideas and experiences.
Honestly, I was hesitant at first to start this meeting, given the stretched schedule everyone already faces. Who has the extra time to spend reading psychology papers? But the enthusiasm from the faculty and students is overwhelming and bodes well for the future. I am looking forward to a semester of fruitful and informative discussions!