Dr. Jessica Esquivel is a postdoctoral researcher at Fermilab working on the Muon g-2 experiment. She's also an AAAS If/Then Ambassador, a member of the Change – Now Collective, a science communicator, and a vocal advocate for increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEM.
How did Black In Physics begin?
Black In Physics is a grassroots movement dedicated to highlighting the contributions of Black physicists at all levels of career stage. It was spurred by the civil unrest happening in our country, and seeing the response of Black scholars from across the STEM landscape create STEM field-specific weeks. The movement followed many successful Black In "X" weeks, including BlackBirdersWeek and BlackInAstro. The lead organizers were myself, Dr. Charles Brown, and Dr. Eileen Gonzales. Co-organizers were Jessica Tucker, Dr. Vanessa A. Sanders, Ashley L. Walker, Cheyenne Polius, Marika Edwards, Dr. Bryan Ramson, LaNell Williams, Xandria Quichocho, and Dr. Ciara Sivels.
From the organizing committee, you can see the many diverse physics fields, the intersections of race/gender/sexuality, and that we're all either students or early-career physicists. I wanted to be a part of BlackInPhysics not just to facilitate building community among Black physicists, and not just to spotlight our amazing contributions, but because people who look like me were being killed in the streets by police officers, because I felt helpless and hopeless and needed a sense of purpose—needed to feel like I belonged somewhere, and that what I do matters.
Many of us who are being lauded as leaders in this movement were thrust into leadership, leading an effort to dismantle a system we had no say in creating, a system that continually oppresses us and continually steals our time with a mirage of words like "we value diversity, equity, and inclusion" or "your work in ED&I is so important," but then the harsh reality slaps you in the face when they expect this work to be done for free. My dream would be that Black students after me can just be enamored by the weirdness that is physics—that they can spend all the time they desire answering the next existential questions of the universe without having to worry about their survival.
What has Black In Physics been involved with doing so far?
BlackInPhysics hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon where we created and/or edited Wikipedia pages dedicated to Black physicists. This is so important to do because not only is it a written documentation of the contributions Black physicists have made, it also serves as a source of diverse representation. The uniqueness to our Wikithon is that we not only want to recognize those individuals who are senior in their career and have made lasting scientific contributions to the field, we also aimed to honor early and senior-career individuals who have devoted countless hours to solidifying the survival of physics as a whole. We want to recognize early and senior-career individuals who have been thrust into leadership roles focused on changing the physics landscape; who are leading the push to create just, equitable, and inclusive universities, laboratories, and collaborations; who are avid science communicators, mentors to under-represented populations, community engagers, and builders of the next generation of the STEM workforce. Without leadership in ED&I from these individuals, we wouldn't be able to make lasting scientific contributions.
What do you want LGBTQ+ scientists to know about Black In Physics?
From our inaugural BlackInPhysics week, we recognized the need for counterspaces that not only focus on who we are as a physicist, but also who we are as an individual. We recognized the importance of creating programming through an intersectional lens. We recognized that Black physicists encompass women, gender minoritized individuals, disabled individuals, LGBTQ+ identifying folks, and so many more intersecting identities. We listened to our community and because of that, we were able to quickly pivot to provide accessibility resources like closed captions on all of our professional programming, and ADA accommodations in our virtual career fair space. Our ability to listen to what our community needs, and the creativity and innovation we bring as early-career individuals, allowed us to create a week that was immersive and international.
What I hope our inaugural BlackInPhysics week highlights is that Black physicists are not a monolith, and when developing an organization devoted to supporting said community, an understanding and recognition of the multifaceted identities—and in turn the potentially compounded marginalization and isolation even within spaces where Black physicists should feel safe—must be addressed. Our goal is to continue to think outside the box, to continue developing programs and events through an intersectional lens, and to build out our grassroots movement into an organization that can serve our community for many years to come.
What's next for Black In Physics?
We’re just getting started! We aim to use the momentum from our inaugural BlackInPhysics week, as well as the momentum from the broader Black In "X" movements, to continue developing support structures for Black physicists. We're currently developing an organizational structure and model to become a long-term fixture of support within the community, and are very excited for the future of our organization! We aim to build this organization on strong footing, so with this in mind, we're stepping back and asking ourselves (and soon the community we belong to) what is it we need from an organization, what holes can we fill with regards to supporting Black physicists? We’re really asking the difficult questions early on so that we create a counterspace that is as effective as possible.
Has there been anything challenging or surprising that you’ve learned or experienced while doing this work?
I’d have to say the amount of labor to build a grassroots movement off the ground was both a challenge and a surprise. The level of trust and support you must have within the organizing and founding group is critical to a successful event/conference/initiative, and thankfully I feel like we have that.
We as co-founders are all early-career physicists forging our traditional professional paths at the same time that we're working to build an organization to support Black physicists. Maneuvering both has been difficult, and the time commitment of both excelling professionally and in creating BlackInPhysics definitely requires give-and-take amongst us. I’m grateful to be working with Charles and Eileen, who both understand the time pressures we as early career physicists are dealing with. I’m also grateful to be able to have a support system to lean on when either of us needs to step back, and not have to worry about whether we will still make progress toward building this organization. I’m honored to be a part of such an amazing group of trailblazers!