Cornell offers course exploring astronomy through lens of 'racial blackness'

·2 min read

Cornell University students were offered the chance to explore the cosmos through “the idea of racial blackness.”

The $60,000-per-year Ivy League university offered a course in spring 2021 called Black Holes: Race and the Cosmos, which introduced students to the basics of astronomy through readings in black studies.

The class, which was co-taught by comparative literature and astronomy professors, laid out its intentions to use black literature, film, and music by various artists, including Sun Ra, Outkast, and Janelle Monae, to “experiment with what it means to engage with astrophysics concepts both inside and outside of the disciplinary framework of astronomy” and explore what “artists and theoreticians of color gain from turning identity politics toward cosmological reflection.”

Emory University English professor Michelle Wright was featured as a possible course text. Her book, The Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology, explores the “process through which Blackness is deprived of its complexity and inclusivity when defined through this spacetime,” according to the publisher’s description.

Students were also taught about scientific concepts such as the “electromagnetic spectrum, stellar evolution, and general relativity.” The class fulfilled three units of physical science requirements.


Cornell has previously faced criticism for offering a rock climbing class specifically “for people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.” A spokesperson for the university said earlier this year that “there was never an intent to exclude non-minority students” and changed the course description.

The movement to “decolonize” the curriculum has been gaining momentum, with universities across the United States swapping classic literature for contemporary literature written by nonwhite people. In 2016, students at Yale University petitioned for a change in the English curriculum, arguing that “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.”

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Tags: News, Race and Diversity, Space, Education, Higher Education, Science

Original Author: Carly Ortiz-Lytle

Original Location: Cornell offers course exploring astronomy through lens of 'racial blackness'

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