Inclusive Astronomy 2

L. Strolger (strolger[at]stsci.edu) and N. Reid (inr[at]stsci.edu)

 

Inclusive Astronomy 2 group photoThe Institute hosted the second Inclusive Astronomy meeting (IA2) on October 14 and 15, 2019. This was a follow-on meeting to the Inclusive Astronomy meeting held in Nashville four years earlier. That meeting brought together many people from various disciplines and backgrounds to discuss issues in inclusivity, diversity, equity, and intersectionality in astronomy. The first IA meeting was highly successful in fostering connections, promoting broad and open discussions, and ultimately providing valuable recommendations to the community on how to improve our workplaces.

These topics were considered highly important to revisit in preparation for the upcoming Astro2020 Decadal survey. It was anticipated that the Panel on State of the Profession and Societal Impacts could use input from the meeting, in addition to white papers, to craft their recommendations to the community for the 2020s and beyond. This was also an appropriate time to evaluate and renew past recommendations, given progress in a number of diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) areas—such as the LGBTQ+ inclusivity best-practice guides for physics and astronomy, and early adoptions of graduate admissions without Physics GRE requirements. Further, impactful societal events such as the Mauna Kea protests and the #MeToo movement were fresh on everyone's minds and warranted further purposeful discussion.

The IA2 meeting was planned for this auspicious time. The organizers were committed to creating an opportunity for many voices to be heard, to identify progress made, and look to the work yet to be done. These lofty ambitions led to some of the most valuable things learned from this meeting.

The announcement of the meeting attracted considerable interest from the community. The level of interest was overwhelming, and significantly exceeded the planners' expectations—and unfortunately, the available accommodations—by a factor of two. Taken by itself, this increased support and interest was encouraging for the long-term health of the community. In the short term, however, the logistical constraints required the organizers to make balanced selections across volunteered pre-registration demographic information. To ensure impartial representation, an algorithmic program designed to remove bias in selection was utilized to identify the attendees. The limitations of the venue and timing had the unfortunate and unintended outcome of having to decline attendance to some for a meeting intended to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. This was a significant lesson for the organizers and the community, with respect to the evolution of the DEI community.

Acknowledging those limitations and constraints, the program committee and the local organizing committee worked zealously over several months to develop a diverse and balanced program, and to provide an environment for many and varied voices to be heard. The Logistics Organizing Committee (LOC) members invested considerable effort and personal energy in preparing an accommodating venue, creating opportunities for engagement and conversation, fostering safe access to participants of various abilities, and providing widely accessible use of gender-neutral bathroom facilities. Slack was used to allow anyone in the audience to have a voice, even if the microphone did not quite make it to them. Code of Conduct agreements and Social Media policies helped to respect the privacy of the meeting and ensure the conversations were respectful and inclusive.

Despite early hurdles, the meeting was a success. Speakers and presentations focused on a wide range of topics, including workplace guidelines to support individuals from the disability community, practical advice for supporting colleagues undergoing gender transition, as well as  status reports, best practices, and recommendations from a variety of under-represented groups in the field. The auditorium was packed with diverse participants of various ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, and career stages. There was broad representation from funding agencies and policy makers, including several members of the Decadal Survey committees, representatives from the AAS, NASA, the NSF, AURA, the OIR Lab, and other observatories. Virtual attendees (and a few virtual presenters) participated via webcasts. Vigorous and candid discussions continued during Q&A sessions, breaks, and at the meeting dinner at R-house.

The organizers of the meeting, and others in the community leading DEI efforts, identified significant lessons learned on how plan such meetings in the future. Perhaps most importantly was how to communicate and provide transparency so the community can appreciate issues and offer feedback early in the planning of such events. Looking forward, it is clear that future meetings must take into account the extensive growth of interest in these topics within the community, and plan earlier and plan larger. The local organizing committee is preparing a guide to anyone planning future events on ways to make an inclusive and accommodating meeting. We all hope future organizers can benefit from these hard-learned lessons, while remaining motivated to host the next inclusive astronomy meeting, hopefully in the very near future.  

These are challenging times for people everywhere, but particularly for the members of the LGBTQ and URM communities. We urge everyone to work together to provide mutual support as we move forward in uncertain times.

There is extensive information on the Inclusive Astronomy 2 meeting on the conference website. There, in addition to program information and public webcasts of some presentations, you'll find guides used in conference planning, accessibility, and conduct, as well as reports on the participant selection process.