Race and Physics Teaching, September 2017 Theme Issue

Race and Physics Teaching

I was struck by the fact that the responses, the papers that were submitted, were unique, and in some cases much broader than what I expected in terms of a response to a call for articles about race and the physics classroom, but they were appropriate and in rhythm with the call.

—Geraldine Cochran, Rutgers University

Contact: David Wolfe
E-mail: dwolfe@aapt.org
Phone: (301) 209-3327


College Park, MD, August 16, 2017—In February 2016, The Physics Teacher issued a call for papers on the topic of race and physics teaching.In the succeeding months, many of the most thoughtful people in physics education responded to the call with inspiring articles about tested ways of improving the environment for diverse scholars, about privilege and teaching science, and about personal confessions in striving for more equity in education, among other important topics.

The first responses to the call will be published in TPT starting next week, a collection of articles that provides specific models feasible for physics teachers to implement, as well as articles that move the conversation about equity in the work done by physicists and physics teachers forward. Seven papers are included in September's themed issue, and additional articles will be published as part of the collection from October through December.

As is the tradition with regular TPT manuscripts, these new submissions were peer-reviewed, in this case by a variety of physics educators with much expertise in the areas of physics teaching and issues of race, so as to better ensure that what is published is informed by evidence and the consideration of many knowledgeable perspectives.

In their editorial, Unique voices in harmony: Call-and-response to address race and physics teaching, Geraldine L. Cochran and Gary D. White observe:

We all have privilege. Some of the privilege we have is by choice and we put forth effort to attain, such as the privilege that comes with our level of education. Other privileges we have may be the result of no effort on our part;we may have privileges based on the country where we were born, the race with which we identify or are identified by others, or the language we first learned to speak, among other things. For many, we have a sense of pride in the privileges that come with the things we worked to attain such as our level of education. It can be a little harder to grapple with the privileges that were handed to us, so to speak. It is even harder to come to terms with the reality that the privileges that were handed to us influenced our ability to gain things for which we may have worked hard to obtain


Daane, Decker, and Sawtelle's article, included in the September issue, on "teaching about racial equity in introductory physics courses" provides a curriculum that can be modified to fit the circumstance of a variety of physics courses and can address a number of issues related to inequity in physics.

Dounas-Frazer, Hyater-Adams, and Reinholz offer "a model for continued education of program organizers" that are learning to do diversity work. Russ showcases a model for including conversations about equity into science/physics teacher education.

Another article addresses the complex interactions between race and ethnicity in the context of physics teaching in Puerto Rico. This work, by González-Espada and Carrasquillo, is a fascinating look into some of the past problems and current successes in physics teaching there, and is one example of the surprising breadth of responses to the original call for papers. An additional example, which might seem quite a stretch from the original call for some, is the piece by Hechter and Awad, Living Ethnoastronomy: Discovering the Connectedness of the Human Spirit Beneath the Night Sky, a short and moving reflection on their unlikely collaboration.

This themed issue is very timely, given the implications of the US Supreme Court Chief Justice's question regarding what a minority student brings to a physics classroom and especially given the current discussion of affirmative action as reverse discrimination. The paper by Johnson, Ong, Ko, Smith, and Hodari is extremely important because it documents and, for some, validates the challenges that women of color in physics face, including the activation of stereotypes, isolation, and microagressions. They also provide solutions for improving the climate of the department for women of color. It is imperative that students of color in physics receive support to continue on in their pursuit of discovering the wonders of physics in the high school classroom and in higher education.

Sabella, Mardis, Sanders, and Little discuss how to build a supportive community of diverse students and how to address racial inequities in measures of success. At a time when many are not aware of the disadvantages that students of different backgrounds face, it is imperative to include critical analyses such as Robertson and Atkins Elliott's article which will appear later in the fall, All students are brilliant: A confession of injustice and a call to action, to highlight the inequities, reflect on the impact they may have on students, and consider how they might be identified and addressed in the future.

Continuing the Call
Many of these papers include a call to action and a call for more work to be done in this area. Sabella et al. mention the need for more creative ways to measure student success. Rachel Scherr and Amy Robertson, whose paper will also appear later in the fall, encourage the physics community to come together to think about ways "to challenge and disrupt unfair advantage."

These are just two examples, but there are a number of other calls evident in the articles that are part of this themed collection. The editors hope that these calls will elicit a full-sized chorus of responses from the community and that physicists will continue to partner in these efforts. The Physics Teacher would be happy to publish further work on these topics outside of the themed collection.
Submission guidelines

Articles in this Issue

Teaching About Racial Equity in Introductory Physics Courses, Abigail Daane, Sierra Decker, and Vashti Sawtelle

Puerto Rico: Race, Ethnicity, Culture, and Physics Teaching, Wilson J. González-Espada and Rosa E. Carrasquillo

Learning to Do Diversity Work: A Model for Continued Education of Program Organizers, Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Simone A. Hyater-Adams, and Daniel L.Reinholz

The Chi-Sci Scholars Program:Developing Community and Challenging Racially Inequitable Measures of Success at a Minority-Serving Institution on Chicago's Southside, Mel S. Sabella, Kristy L. Mardis,Nicolette Sanders, and Angela Little

Common Challenges Faced by Women of Color in Physics,and Actions Faculty Can Take to Minimize Those Challenges, Angela Johnson, Maria Ong, Lily T. Ko,Janet Smith, and Apriel Hodari

Integrating Conversations About Equity in "Whose Knowledge Counts" into Science Teacher Education, Rosemary S. Russ

Living Ethnoastronomy: Discovering the Connectedness of the Human Spirit Beneath the Night Sky, Richard Paul Hechter and Nayif Awad

Other Articles

See the AAPT.ORG resources page on Race and Physics Teaching.


About The Physics Teacher (TPT)
The Physics Teacher (TPT) publishes peer-reviewed papers on the teaching of introductory physics and on topics such as contemporary physics, applied physics, and the history of physics. Dedicated to strengthening the teaching of introductory physics at all levels, including secondary schools colleges and universities, TPT provides peer-reviewed content and materials to be used in classrooms and instructional laboratories.


About AAPT
AAPT is an international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists—with members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage teaching practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. Founded in 1930, the Association is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.