How Black Space Week builds community and representation in astronomy

In the spring of 2020, after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer and Breona Taylor was shot dead by police at her Louisville apartment, planetary astrochemist Ashley Walker began tweeting under the hashtag #BlackInAstro. Walker, a graduate student at Howard University, contributes to the student blog astrobiters and had recently invited her fellow writers to publish a series of publications on the experiences of blacks in astronomy. As protests calling for racial justice and equality swept the United States, the idea became even more urgent.

The result was the first #BlackInAstroWeek in June 2020, incl daily publications in Astrobites emphasizing black astronomers. The campaign went viral and attracted media attention such as Scientific American. For Walker, this showed that there was a lingering demand to hear these stories – and to create space for them to be told.

“I’ve wanted to tell these stories for a long time,” she said astronomy. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to tell these stories, and not just to tell stories about the lives of blacks, but to understand and really see progress, whether it’s really big or very small.”

The field of astronomy certainly has a long way to go. or 2007 survey found that black astronomers make up about 1% of the field. And since then, the situation has not improved significantly. According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), approximately 300 doctoral students in astronomy and astrophysics are awarded by American universities and institutions each year. Of these, the average number of doctoral students in astronomy awarded to black students is one.

ass BlackInAstro the organizers are determined to change the situation and their activity has an impact.

Now in his third year, Black in astro week (also known as Black Space Week) has grown to include online panels, discussions and talk spaces. And it has the attention of the entire astronomical community – as reflected by the organizers of the reception received last week at the AAS summer meeting in Pasadena. (On the opening day of the meeting, Walker also posted questions and answers in Natural astronomy.)

More than ever, people in power in astronomy are trying to better understand how their leadership can become an ally, Walker said. “I did not get this – this Love in every AAS, ”she said.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever felt so wanted,” said Cashon Ivory, an astronomy student at Vanderbilt University. “Or I appreciate it,” Walker added.

Between appointments at the AAS meeting, the organizers of Black In Astro took the time to sit down astronomy let’s talk about Black Space Week and draw the programming for this week.


Black Space Week has begun SundayJune 19, with a celebration of The Eleventh and an online name call under the hashtags #BlackInAstroRollCall and #BlackSpaceWeekRollCall.

Monday presented a series of online panels focused on space entrepreneurship and space law, reaching beyond the world of academic professional astronomy to engage with the consequences of underperformance at the policy level. It is crucial that blacks and people of color have a voice in how the regulatory and political structures of space are created, organizers say.

“How can we not reproduce all the social evils we have caused on Earth in space?” Ivory said. “How do you get space so you don’t recreate global hegemony?” These are questions we need to ask, Ivory said, “otherwise we’ll be mistaken – like, very wrong.”

Tuesday focuses on professional development under the hashtag #AstroWorlds panel with postdoctoral students The most Farid, Eileen Gonzalez and Carl Fields at 13:00 EDT. There is also labor exchange with representatives of universities, museums and NASA at 16:00 EDT.

Wednesday is #BlackToTheFuture day, a celebration of two major influences on contemporary science fiction: the pioneering writer Octavia Butler and Afro-Futurism. The artist represented is Joan “Paradigm” Roberts, MC, poet and astronomer, who will pay tribute to Butler and reading poetry at 20:00 EDT.

Thursday the topic is # Wonderful missions, with a space mission panel scheduled for 6:15 p.m. EDT. The panelists will include Tracy Drane, a veteran of many NASA robotic missions and a leading flight systems engineer for the upcoming Europa Clipper mission; and Andrea Bryant, an astrophysicist working on NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission to Titan.

Friday is #FluidFridayas Ivory hosts a free chat on Twitter Space, the platform’s audio chat feature.

“We wanted to do Fluid Friday because there are so many identities that we hold to be black in Astro,” Ivory said. “So the first thing that came to mind was, OK, it’s a month of pride, some of us are also black and weird in Astro,” [like] me, Ashley. And then somehow we kept thinking that there was Black and a cripple, Black and chronically ill – I’m also chronically ill. “And I thought we should have some space for that.”

Ivory says it will be a space where people can be open and honest. “I’m probably going to say something like, ‘Hey, it’s really hard for me.’ And I don’t behave like that all the time because I like to smile and laugh. And I like to have fun. But it’s pretty hard to balance all the things I balance – to be weird and black and chronically ill and to do astronomy, like, that’s a lot. [It’s] giving people a place to talk about it and not tell them that, you know, “This is not the place, this is not the time.”

The day ends at 17:00 EDT with a display of 1990 documentary Paris is burninga study of New York ball culture from the 1980s.

Black Space Week is coming to an end Saturday s #ForCulture, featuring a panel at the 12:00 EDT on Cultural Astronomy and examining the history of astronomy through the prism of the African diaspora. Speakers include Ethiopian physicist and astronomer Abebe Kebebe; South African astronomer and entrepreneur Tana Joseph, currently at the University of Amsterdam; and My MacTierwho as a student became the first person to ever double his major at Harvard in astronomy and folklore.

For Walker, emphasizing cultural astronomy is part of capturing the Black Astronomical Community in its entirety. “Because if we’re talking about all the astronomical communities, these stories, this origin comes from people of color, [people] from Africa, “she said. “And we have to pay tribute to the people who did this work.”

Bringing together people from so many areas of the space sector – both to share their experiences and to identify as allies – is powerful, he said. Ronald Gamble, theoretical astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We already have a network. But seeing the impact of that brings excitement. ”

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