Harassment and discrimination in astronomy take many forms


Newswise – WASHINGTON, March 29, 2022 – The existence of harassment and discrimination in academia has been well documented across various fields of study. A report from the American Institute of Physics goes beyond the numbers to examine the types of harassment experienced by members of the astronomical community over a decade, highlighting the pervasiveness of the problem.

the AIP Longitudinal Survey of Graduate Astronomy Students was initiated by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2006 to better understand the forms and long-term impacts of harassment in the field of astronomy. The study interviewed graduate astronomy students in the 2006-2007 academic year and followed up with these same individuals in 2012-2013 and 2015-2016 after they entered the workforce.

Across the study, 33% of respondents said they had experienced bullying and discrimination at school or work. These respondents were then asked to describe the circumstances of their harassment or discrimination.

Four types of harassment and discrimination prevailed in the responses:

  • Biased assumptions that were communicated to respondents regarding their status, career and personal life
  • Verbal bashing in the form of jokes, criticisms and undermining comments
  • Inequitable treatment based on demographics that limited their social support and professional development
  • Unwanted sexual attention, ranging from inappropriate comments to more serious behaviors such as threats, harassment, and assault

“Our examination of the context reveals the depth and variety of forms of harassment and discrimination,” said AIP’s Rachel Ivie, co-author of the resulting report, “Exploring Harassment and Discrimination Experiences in Astronomy.” “Because harassment and discrimination are so pervasive, they seem to be part of the climate and structure of astronomical educational and workplace settings, occurring in many different situations and across career stages.”

Survey respondents described incidents of harassment in settings ranging from classrooms/seminars to university lectures and social events to workplaces. Many incidents were based on gender, but some were based on other statuses such as race or socioeconomic position.

Some targets who reported the incidents – through official or unofficial channels – did not receive support, and in one case the individual was blamed for the reported behavior.

“Strengthening efforts to eliminate all forms of harassment and discriminatory behavior, and providing support to those in need, are essential actions to create a safe and inclusive scientific community for all,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of ‘AIP. “This study shows that the astronomical community is right to continue to examine and question its culture – and other disciplines can surely learn from this report.”

Since the AIP study was undertaken, AAS has implemented several measures to reduce harassment in the astronomy community. The company has taken a clear position Code of ethics And one Anti-harassment policy which governs behavior in AAS-sponsored meetings, postings and other activities, supported by a complaints process and a ethics committee.

He also set up a site visit programin which a department or institute of astronomy may request an external committee, sent by the AAS, to visit, conduct interviews, and assess the climate of the department.

“A survey of recent graduates is now needed to test our progress,” said AAS President Paula Szkody. “Awareness is key. Studies such as the AIP Longitudinal Survey of Graduate Astronomy Students provide valuable insights into the realities and forms of harassment and discrimination in the field, better positioning us to continue to fight against such behaviors as a community.”

“Harassment and discrimination can reinforce or realign power differences in academic work and educational settings,” Ivie said. “It is important to question and restructure the organizational parameters that enable these behaviors.”



the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a society of 501(c)(3) members of scientific societies. The IPA pursues its mission – to advance, promote and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity – with a unifying voice from diversity. In its role as a federation, the IPA advances the success of its member societies by providing the means to pool, coordinate and leverage their diverse expertise and contributions in pursuit of a common goal of advancing the physical sciences in the research enterprise, in the economy, in education and in society. In its role as an institute, the AIP functions as a center of excellence using policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future advances in the physical sciences.


the American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators and amateur astronomers. Its approximately 8,000 members also include physicists, geologists, engineers, and others whose interests lie within the wide range of subjects that now make up the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share mankind’s scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publications, meetings, scientific advocacy , education and awareness, training and professional development.



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