Op-ed submission: Diversity in the physics department

The Physics Department Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee Members

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.

Sincerely,

The undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty of the Physics Workplace Climate and Diversity Committee

  • Val Ryland

    “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.”

    If everyone has equal potential to be a physicist, everyone should be offered equal tools and support, otherwise you’re engaging in thinly veiled discrimination. Benevolent sexism is still sexism.

    • HateCliques

      I do not think you know the meaning of equity, Val. Look it up before commenting in a hurry, flying over the important caveat emptor presented by the committee about equality.

      Plus your comments on diversity topics reveal a pattern: thinly veiled dislike of black people. Try and check yourselves next time.

      • Val Ryland

        I am quite aware of the meaning of “equity”. I repeat: If everyone has equal potential to be a physicist, everyone should be offered equal tools and support. If you think that doing otherwise is somehow consistent with “equity”, you don’t know what “equity” means. And that’s assuming that equity is a worthwhile goal to begin with, which it isn’t, really: nobody is clamoring for quotas for physicists with Down’s syndrome. Like it or not, scientific research is a game for a certain intellectual elite. If it wasn’t, we could hire professors by lottery and be done with it. That would be “equitable”. It would also be monumentally stupid.

        “Plus your comments on diversity topics reveal a pattern: thinly veiled dislike of black people. ”

        Yeah, and we know that’s right because of all these examples you posted… oh, wait, you haven’t posted any and are simply trying to poison the well. Tip, try to be less transparent about it next time.

        • HateCliques

          Yes, you proved my point. You do not know what equity means. Equal doesn’t mean fair. Same doesn’t mean fair. Fair means fair. Everyone should not be offered the ‘same’ tools. That’s equality. Everyone should be offered the tools that help them achieve the goal. That’s equity. Do you understand now, Val? Do you know now why they added the caveat emptor? Because offering the same tools to all can, in many cases increase the gap between the fortunate and the less fortunate.

          And as far as transparency goes, you do not even need a sign around your neck to show your true White privileged thoughts. As I said, check yourself next time.

          • Val Ryland

            Again, because you’re having trouble parsing this: If everyone has equal potential to be a physicist, everyone should be offered equal tools and support. That’s very, very simple.

            Like I said. “Equity” is the wrong goal to begin with. “Equality” is a much better one. Where are your clamors for representation of physicists with Down’s syndrome?

            “And as far as transparency goes, you do not even need a sign around your neck to show your true White privileged thoughts.”

            Oh, well, if you can find these things out by divine revelation, I guess debating is completely redundant :) Reality check: you don’t even know my race.

            PS: “privilege” is a bankrupt notion that doesn’t adequately describe just about anything. You might want to look up the ecological fallacy