Stories of Pride: Catherine Herne

Meet Catherine Herne, Assistant Professor of Physics at State University of New York at New Paltz and an SPIE Member.
24 June 2020
Pride Month: Stories from the SPIE Community
Pride Month: Stories from the SPIE Community

In celebration of Pride Month, SPIE spoke with members of our community about their experiences as LGBTQ+ scientists in optics and photonics as well as within the greater STEM community.

Meet SPIE Member Catherine Herne (pronouns: she/her/hers), an optical physics assistant professor at State University New York at New Paltz. She teaches introductory advanced physics courses and the advanced physics laboratory courses in the Physics and Astronomy Department; she performs research with undergraduate students in optical micromanipulation.


Catherine Herne
Catherine Herne

Is there an LGBTQ+ person in your life who has inspired you?

I was inspired at a young age by Holly Near, a powerful singer and performer/activist. Her music and messages gave me an early language for social justice. As a reader of speculative fiction, I saw a bigger and complex world through the work of Octavia Butler, a Black lesbian science fiction writer. Lastly, my mother, Susanne Morgan, an out lesbian-feminist sociology professor, has long been a model for me of campus community-based social organizing.

How can allies actively support LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers?

Being an ally of any marginalized community means educating ourselves about identities and histories, and creating space for people to affirm their lived experience. For LGBTQ+ scientists, allies can inform themselves about concerns and microaggressions affecting LGBTQ+ people.

We can all create space by learning terminology that relates to LGBT+ people, by routinely mentioning varieties of family structures, and by sharing pathways into science. Routinely alluding to differences between gender, gender presentation, and sexual orientation, we help make the lab or classroom environment more inclusive.

What is one piece of advice you can offer the LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers of the future?

Acknowledge how your intersectional identities will benefit your scientific career. These identities make us better colleagues and allow us to consider questions we might not have thought about because they aren't standard patterns of inquiry.

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