Last fall semester, students in Pomona College’s Foundations of Modern Physics (PHYS101 PO) class were required to complete a “Decolonizing Physics” project as a part of their physics coursework. Taught by Professor Janice Hudgings, Foundations of Modern Physics is mandatory course for all students majoring in physics or astronomy. The Pomona College course catalog describes the class as an “introduction to wave mechanics, spectra and structure of atoms, molecules and solids, nuclear physics and particle physics.”
According to an email obtained by the Independent sent from a student asking for assistance on the project, students in Foundations of Modern Physics must “learn and discuss implicit bias, microaggressions and other similar topics.” The email revealed that students are expected to “bring to light some of these issues to both the physics department and Pomona in general,” and cited a student movement at Harvard University, which highlighted microaggressions against students of color, as an example of the work expected from the students enrolled in the physics class.
It is not clear what aspects of wave mechanics, atomic structures, molecules and solids, nuclear physics, or particle physics deals with interpersonal implicit bias, a topic typically reserved for the social sciences and humanities.
The email stated that the student attempted her own rendition of the “#ITooAmHarvard” project—a student-developed movement at Harvard University to highlight microaggressions against students of color—with the catchphrase “#ITooAmSTEM.” The student called for the stories of female students or students of color to discuss STEM-related social justice topics for women and persons of color.
The Pomona physics department ignored numerous and exhaustive inquiries, taking place over the course of nearly two months, from reporters at the Independent. Multiple anonymous sources, however, have confirmed the project’s existence.
This assignment comes on the heels of the integration of social justice issues into the Introduction to Statistics curriculum at Pomona College.
The Independent made numerous attempts through email, phone, and in-person communication to contact the Pomona physics department, including physics and astronomy academic coordinator Natalie Hughes, and Hudgings herself—who acknowledged receipt of emails inquiring for more information—to obtain further details about the exact assignment prompt, the relation of microaggressions and decolonization to the introductory physics curriculum, class syllabus, and the history of the assignment of this project. So far, Hudgings and the department have refused to comment.
Ahlbie Squire contributed reporting.