Colorado College Professor Says, Like Everything, Astrophysics Is 'Steeped In White Supremacy'

Photo:  Gorodenkoff (Shutterstock)
Photo: Gorodenkoff (Shutterstock)

Columbia College Science Professor Natalie Gosnell is making headlines for an interview she did which addresses how racism plays a strong role in her field. Gosnell, who received her doctorate in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave an interview with Colorado College’s student newspaper in which she shared her thoughts.

“As an astrophysicist, I’m a product of institutions that are steeped in systemic racism and white supremacy,” Gosnell stated. “The tenets of white supremacy that show up [in physics] of individualism and exceptionalism and perfectionism… it’s either-or thinking, and there’s no subtlety, there’s no gray area.

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“All of this manifests in the way that we think about our research, and what counts as good research, what counts as important research?” The article was about Gosnell’s new immersive art piece called “The Gift,” which examines the “hyper-masculine” language used to describe natural phenomena (the examples of “Vampire star” or “Cannibal star” were cited).

Gonsnell explained: “I think because science and art have been so separated, and there’s [...] systemic issues within science, the metaphors that are often chosen [to discuss science] are very violent and hyper-masculine.” The piece also addressed the lack of diversity when it comes to the field of physics:

“The exclusive environment of physics is well-documented: research published at the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and other reputable physics publications has spotted a trend that most of us could already guess — white men, across the board, tend to have the strongest sense of belonging in physics. Persons of color and women’s involvement and success in physics is markedly low.”

Of course, people of color aren’t surprised at Gosnell’s words—institutional racism runs deep. Gosnell also said that she is deliberate with how she wants to use her platform to include more voices. “We can make different choices about the metaphors that we use, in the stories that we tell, which is where [...] the inspiration and goal behind ‘The Gift’ comes from.”

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