Academia, like every part of our society, has a race problem. Today, I’m joining in the effort to change that by taking a break from business as usual and examining the issues facing my Black colleagues and what I can do to change them. I encourage you to do the same, and if you stick around, I’ll give you some ways to help!
The Current State of Affairs
Physics and engineering struggle across the board with diversity. According to a 2020 report from the American Physical Society (APS, home to my professional society, the Division of Fluid Dynamics, or DFD), my society’s membership is currently about 14% female. That’s actually an improvement over 3 years ago, when we were all of 11% female. APS doesn’t even publish unit-level statistics on racial and ethnic minorities, though they do report statistics for minorities across physics as a whole.
Only 3-4% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in physics or engineering go to Black graduates. At the graduate level, the statistics are even grimmer. Only about 100 Black women total have earned PhDs in physics. And studies have made it clear that the issues standing in the way of Black physicists and engineers are largely systemic and beyond their personal control. The problem is not that Black physicists and engineers are less capable; it’s that they face systemic and structural obstacles that make it harder to succeed. Those include isolation, frequent microaggressions, fewer role models and mentors, and implicit bias.
Working Toward Change
As someone without an academic institution, I’m somewhat limited in my capacity to change the culture there. I have no say in hiring or tenure decisions. (If you are at a university, here are some resources that may help you create change.)
But my work does play an important role in increasing visibility for minorities in physics in engineering, including African Americans. To that end, I pledge to redouble my efforts to feature the voices and work of Black fluid dynamicists.
I also want to support organizations that help Black physicists and engineers like the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Society of Black Engineers, and African American Women in Physics. And this is where you can help! For the next month, I will donate all of my proceeds from the sales of FYFD merchandise to these organizations. Moreover, I will personally match those proceeds with my own donation (up to $500). So if you’ve been thinking about grabbing a t-shirt or some stickers to share your love of fluid dynamics, now’s a great time!
Final Thoughts and More Resources
It’s important to recognize that #ShutDownSTEM is about more than one day. It’s about making a sustained commitment to eliminate anti-Black racism in STEM and academia. To that end, I include here some useful resources, both on general anti-racism efforts and on academic ones in particular. I hope you’ll join me in making our field more diverse and inclusive.
Meet Some Black Physicists, Engineers, and Fluid Dynamicists
This list is in no way comprehensive, but I want to highlight some of the amazing Black folks who have and are working in these fields. Have recommendations for more? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
- AAAS If/Then Ambassadors
- #BlackinSTEM, #BlackintheIvoryTower, #BlackintheIvory
- Erika Anderson
- Lance Collins (Google Scholar)
- John Dabiri (Google Scholar; on FYFD and FYFD YouTube)
- Dennice Gayme (Google Scholar; on APS News)
- Sydney Hamilton
- Erika J
- Mary Jackson (see Hidden Figures, Publications)
- Joseph A Johnson III (Google Scholar)
(Featured image credit: #ShutDownSTEM)