Celebrating Minoritized Scientists

The scientific enterprise progresses through the work of international scientists, scientists of color, women scientists, gay scientists, transgender scientists, in addition to the scientists that we most commonly here mentioned in historical texts. At least in the field of astronomy, what I call the stories and contributions of the aforementioned “minoritized” scientists, are not mentioned nearly to the extent of some scientists: Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, whose names, stories, and contributions have been highlighted in astronomy texts for years.

What does it do to the shape of astronomy and astronomy education, to foreground minoritized scientists’ contribution in teaching?

By using Scientist Spotlights in my teaching, branded as a means to engage “students in reflective writing to teach science content and promote diversity & inclusion,” I hope to offer my students a means to hear about a scientist that may look or identify like them. In a Scientist Spotlight assignment, students read about a scientist - both about their work as it is linked to course content, and also a personal background of the scientist - why they do what they do, their hopes, their ambitions.

I hope that these assignments offer students a chance to see science as something that others like (or not just like) them have successfully engaged in - that the door to being a scientist is not closed to them. I have no personal need for students to pursue science as a career, but maybe by seeing someone like them engaging in the process, at least they might feel like participating in science is not so out of reach. Maybe they will feel more included in taking up scientific ways of knowing - as one of many human modes of generating understanding - and less excluded.

I still think that the scientific enterprise itself has a long way to go to become more inclusive. As an educator, I believe that one way to start is to change how students experience science instruction - as a place where their thoughts and ideas about complex socioscientific issues matter, including what it means to be an equal contributor in science. This kind of science instruction differs from the kind where content is singularly blasted by an authority figure and regurgitated by students on tests.

On numerous counts, after giving students the opportunity to read about minoritized scientists through Scientist Spotlight assignments, I notice their reflecting that they didn’t know someone who looked like them, or identify like them, could do science. Some students even mention an interest in a career shift that embraces science.

I used to feel nervous about using Scientist Spotlight assignments in instruction - they didn’t look and feel enough like a traditional science course… would students think of me as less of a scientist accordingly? I am tired of letting the norms of science suggest that there is one right way of doing science instruction. I see what these norms disabled, and I want to change what it means to be a scientist.