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Bias-Free Physics

The laws of physics govern all matter and motion in the universe—without bias, privilege, or discrimination. The forces that shape hiring, promotions, and human behavior in the profession of physics, however, are no less corruptible than in other disciplines, prone to assumptions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. The result? White men still dominate the field.

Marty Baylor, Associate Professor of PhysicsMarty Baylor, Associate Professor of Physics Last summer, Carleton’s physics and astronomy department joined the American Physical Society’s new Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity [IDE] Alliance, which aims to help academic institutions, private labs, nonprofits, and governmental organizations identify and enact strategies for improving IDE while recruiting students and talented faculty members. The organization is also focused on ensuring that professors, students, and research assistants have access to safe spaces free of microaggressions and other race- or gender-based preconceptions. 

The ultimate goal is for member campuses to share best practices and concepts with one another on a continuing basis—a tall order, says Marty Baylor, chair of Carleton’s physics and astronomy department. “You’re asking us to do something very people-focused when the way we think about physics is not usually very people-focused.”

By some measures, Carleton’s physics and astronomy department already earns high marks for diversity. The department’s first female instructor was hired in 1987 and, from 2015 to 2019, its students were 29 percent women, 17 percent domestic students of color, 11 percent international students, and 4 percent first-generation college students. Those numbers will continue to trend in the right direction, Baylor says, now that the department is committed to reflecting more deeply on equity issues and experimenting with enlightened processes and protocols. “I’d like to see a complete reevaluation of our goals as a department,” she says. “What can we do to change the culture in a fundamental way?”

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