Astrophysicist claims her field is ‘steeped in systemic racism and white supremacy’

News & Politics

A professor at Colorado College described the field of astrophysics as one “steeped in systemic racism and white supremacy” in a recent interview with the school’s website.

Natalie Gosnell, a professor of physics at Colorado College, told her interviewer that the idea of black-and-white thinking, without grey areas, which she says is prevalent in her field, is a tenet of white supremacy.

“As an astrophysicist, I’m a product of institutions that are steeped in systemic racism and white supremacy,” Gosnell says.

“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,” she continued.

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The professor is promoting an art piece of hers called “The Gift,” which is meant to be a combination of art and science and an attempt to break away from scientific metaphors that she calls “violent and hyper-masculine.”

Hyper-masculinity is also described as the driving factor that is dictating Gosnell’s career in astrophysics.

“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 artist said.

Gosnell says that when she appeared on popular science show “How the Universe Works” in 2010, she presented herself as a masculine stereotype, which says she regrets.

On the Discovery Channel show, Gosnell spoke about her research on the mass-transfer phenomenon, which says is typically presented by contemporary journalists in a hyper-masculine way, due in part to the nicknames given to mass-receiving stars such as “vampire star” or “cannibal star.”

“I totally played into [the hyper-masculine stereotypes], because, ooh, snazzy. I get to be on the Discovery Channel,” Gosnell says of the appearance, noting that she felt that the “price” of presenting herself dishonestly “was too high.”

“It felt like I was masquerading, essentially, as what an astrophysicist was supposed to be like,” she adds.

In 2019, Gosnell helped develop an “immersive, participatory experience” about the same topic of mass-transfer that was meant to get participants to “consider connections, communities, and their place within the universe.”

At the time, Gosnell said that the project made her “feel honest in [her] work and [her] engagement” and that the school helped support such endeavors.

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