UCR’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has been accepted into the American Physical Society’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA). The American Physical Society is a nonprofit organization that strives to advance the knowledge of physics and related disciplines. The APS-IDEA is an initiative dedicated to encouraging and empowering physics departments, laboratories and other related organizations to actively instate solutions and strategies for improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

This was made possible by key faculty members but largely through the efforts of the Physics Organization for Womxn and the Underrepresented (POWUR), an on-campus organization that was spearheaded by the Department of Physics and Astronomy graduate students with the collective goal of providing better support for minority students. 

Bryan Scott, a Ph.D. candidate in astronomy and officer of POWUR, shared his enthusiasm for this newest department development. As a group that champions equity, diversity and inclusion, Scott admitted that their work is not often recognized in such a big way. However, that has not hindered their initiative before, as they’ve previously led their own DEI campaigns on campus, from including more gender neutral restrooms in the department building to hosting department-wide inclusion seminars. 

Courtesy of Elena Zhukova /UCR

According to Scott, POWUR has been even more motivated by the recent AIPS-IDEA acceptance, now looking to the future and how to maintain positive changes in the long term. “We hope to contribute our unique experiences to other APS-IDEA members. At the same time, we are learning collaboratively from them and implementing the best research based practices on the UCR campus and in our communities,” he stated. 

Particle physicist and assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Flip Tanedo, also played an important role in applying to this alliance and spoke to The Highlander about the importance of such recognition. “It is fantastic because it recognizes a lot of the hard work that our students, especially those students in the POWUR group, have done to make our department a more inclusive environment,” he stated. 

Though Tanedo affirmed that this is certainly a momentous occasion, he also indicated that there is still ongoing work to be done for true inclusivity. “There is a naive statement that I often hear that physics doesn’t care about your race or gender or identity ‒ it only cares about your mathematical and scientific abilities,” he stated, adding that though this is an ideal that ought to be reality, if such was the case, then inclusion and equity work would not have the effect that it does on the department. Tanedo explained that numerous science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines are not appropriately reflective of the diverse backgrounds that can be seen in the broader population, one reason being, he said, that minority communities can often face more obstacles when pursuing schooling. 

According to Tanedo, the department and university are continuously looking for ways to better serve the UCR community. The efforts that have gone towards the IDEA network serve as an experiment to determine how shared leadership can function between students, faculty and administration in order to create a more safe and welcoming environment. For now, he agreed that this is a step in the right direction, but the POWUR group and the APS IDEA initiative “recognize that there is still work to be done to make our discipline equitable to all.”