The University of Leicester’s physicists are marking Black History Month by profiling the most influential BME scientists from both history and modern times.
Throughout October, staff at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will recognise one black and minority ethnic scientist each day with a summary of their life and work at their campus home.
Featured men and women, whose lives and achievements will be shown on a screen in the foyer, will include mathematics pioneer Benjamin Banneker, astronaut Mae Jemison, astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, cosmologist Hiranya Peiris, and aerospace engineer Mary Jackson who’s story is told in the forthcoming movie Hidden Figures.
Organisers Dr Rhaana Starling and Rosie Johnson, on behalf of the departmental equality and diversity working group, said the idea was to raise awareness of the under-representation of black and minority ethnic people in the industry, and to celebrate those who have changed the way we view the Universe and everything in it.
Dr Starling said: “Every day during the month of October we will profile one black and minority ethnic scientist in our foyer.
“We are including people from history as well as contemporary scientists.”
This year, Black History Month nationally will recognise the life and work of South African Social Rights activist Desmond Tutu, made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University in 2011, who marks his 85th Birthday.
It has also been 40 years since the seminal publication, The Arts the Britain Ignores, by Naseem Kahn – a British cultural commentator and writer.
One of the goals of the respected international festival is to encourage more BME students to study and remain in academia.
In this respect, the University is leading the way and is above benchmark figures set out in 2002 for representation of BME students taking physics degrees.
Dr Starling said it is always a statistic that the department was aiming to improve.
She said: “Our statistics show that while 18% of our physics students identified as BME or mixed race in 2015, that figure was 6% for academic and research staff.”
“We aim to improve upon this through activities including events to highlight role models, to address barriers to participation, expand our mentoring programmes, and constant re-evaluation of our policies and procedures, creating and maintaining an inclusive working culture.”
Black History Month is an annual celebration and recognition event observed in America, Canada, and the UK which remembers the important people and events in the history of black and minority ethnic people around the world.
It is celebrated each year in the United States, where it was first held in 1976, and Canada (1995) in February, and in Britain (1987) in October.
It was first held in the UK as a special project of the Greater London Council (GLC) and organized by Ghanaian Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, of the GLC, who then served as its coordinator.
Since then, it has become an established annual occurrence with contributions from all walks of life, featuring more 4,000 events across the country – from schoolchildren to celebrities to leading public figures and academics.