Astronomy at HAS is for All

Joe Khalaf, HAS President

Since before taking over as the president of H.A.S. in January, I've had a strong focus on making our hobby and our club accessible and inclusive to anyone who had a desire to explore astronomy. That was a goal I laid out for our club when I became the Outreach chairperson and it's never been more true than it is now. As a minority and a person of color myself, some of the most fulfilling experiences I've had in astronomy and in life were when we brought our telescopes to traditionally underserved and underrepresented minority communities and had a chance to interact with our visitors, with exploration and discovery being the common bond that brought us together those evenings.

The events we've seen on TV recently with the killing of George Floyd have been horrific, and point to a broader and more systemic problem in our society. However, I'd be naive to state it cannot exist in our local astronomy clubs. Though I have never experienced it at H.A.S. or any other local club myself, I have experienced it in other places outside of astronomy. And I do recognize that my experiences alone do not encompass the collective experiences of anyone who has been a member in the past or today.

While I cannot speak for the broader collective of clubs in the Houston area or the hobby in general, let me state this, unequivocally, for our club - RACISM AND OTHER FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION OR BIGOTRY HAVE NO PLACE IN THE HOUSTON ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY, AND AS LONG AS I AM PRESIDENT AND CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, IT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED HERE. As is the case with anyone who feels they've experienced racism or discrimination, they can come to me in confidence so that we can address the problem. There's no reason to suffer this alone or to feel isolated from the club because of it. If there is something more systemic in our club that I'm unaware of, please let me know and we will tackle it at the leadership level.

Science is not devoid of racism and bigotry. There are too many examples of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and other identifiers that many qualified scientists deal with on a daily basis. It wasn't too long ago when the issues of widespread sexual harassment by Berkley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy came to light, after decades of simmering under the surface and complaints being swept under the rug. Countless similar examples of racism exist in the same academic and scientific settings. But acknowledging them isn't enough. We must do all we can to eliminate all forms of racism, discrimination, and bigotry wherever we can.

The heavens above are there for the enjoyment of all humankind, and our club's mission is to make sure that anyone - regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, can find safety and comfort in exploring this hobby without discrimination. We will always strive to make the Houston Astronomical Society not just a place of inclusion for all of our members, but one where everyone is treated equally. Not only is this my mission, but I can speak for the rest of the executive leadership and the board in saying it's theirs, as well.

If anyone has any comments or concerns, please address them directly to me, [email protected], and I'd be happy to discuss them further with you. In the meantime, let us all strive to be kind to one another and to do our small part to make the world a better place, one person and one organization at a time.

HAS Online Store

Get Connected!

HAS has begun using RainedOut, a text message service, to communicate late-breaking news about events. Click here to learn more and subscribe!

Night Sky Network