COLUMN: NASA's female appreciation could be duplicated by IU


IU President Michael McRobbie looks up from the podium at the 2018 State of the University address Oct. 16. Colin Kulpa

NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility has been renamed the Katherine Johnson Verification and Validation Facility after one of the real women depicted in the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures.” NASA’s rededication has set an excellent example for IU to follow.

Katherine Johnson hand-calculated the math behind missions for NASA in a time when computers were new and less trusted than today. Johnson finds her greatest contribution to space exploration to be her calculations to aid in the synchronization of Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander and the Command and Service module, which orbited the moon.

Early astronaut John Glenn notably requested her trajectory calculations before embarking on his successful Friendship 7 mission. 

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told CNN, “I am thrilled we are honoring Katherine Johnson in this way as she is a true American icon who overcame incredible obstacles and inspired so many."

The rededication of the center not only honors Johnson herself, but serves as a means of representation for women of color. Dedications to white men are so commonplace in our world, it’s easy to let them become the default in our minds.

But the plethora of facilities, centers, halls and foundations dedicated to white men does not mean they are more accomplished or deserving, merely that we live in a society where they have benefited greatly from systematic advantages. White men still overwhelmingly make decisions, like whose name goes on what, so it makes sense that we see the names of white men wherever we look. But this comes at a cost.

When those who are often underrepresented see people who look like them being celebrated for their successes, they see that their own success is possible, too. Representation matters, and IU should be doing more to provide it.

“There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant,” Nicole Martins, an associate professor in the Media School told HuffPost.

IU would do well to follow NASA’s example and rededicate popular facilities to women and people of color. The name of a former segregationist was removed from the Intramural Center, which is a great start.

Many have advocated that the Intramural Center be rededicated to honor Bill Garrett, the first black basketball player in the Big Ten. Garrett led IU to second place in 1951’s national rankings and was named IU’s most valuable player for the season.

In 2017, anonymous slips of paper scattered in Jordan Hall urged the hashtag #renameJordan, as its namesake, former IU President David Starr Jordan was an advocate of eugenics and forced sterilization. IU would do well to rededicate facilities like these, with names symbolic of bigotry, to distinguished alumni and IU figures of color.

Facilities like Morrison Hall and the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center honor the first woman, first black man and first black woman to attend IU, but students deserve more. Women and people of color deserve more names than those who first attended and to be reminded that attending IU is only their beginning.

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