On the AWM Moving Towards Action Workshop

In September, Brian Katz wrote a post on the AMS inclusion/exclusion blog about the Moving Towards Action workshop to be held on Tuesday, January 14 by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) at JMM 2020. (JMM 2020 will be held in Denver, Colorado.)

“When members of the mathematics community are made to feel unwelcome in our profession, the success of mathematics as a whole is put into jeopardy,” an announcement about the workshop notes, adding “This workshop is focused on understanding and creating welcoming environments (providing actionable information and process change plans to mathematics department interested in driving cultural change at their respective institutions) so as to invite more people to enter and persist in STEM disciplines.”

The workshop, which is funded by the NSF and supported in part by the AMS, is co-organized by Maeve McCarthy, Elizabeth Donovan, Vrushali Bokil, Ami Radunskaya and Karoline Pershell. In a brief interview conducted over email, McCarthy and Bokil answered some additional questions about the event. (The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Rachel Crowell: Is this the first workshop of its kind?

Maeve McCarthy: Yes, this is the first workshop like this that AWM has held.

RC: What inspired the idea for the workshop?

MM: Mary Anne Holmes from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln gave a talk at Murray State about ethics in the professional societies based on her work with the American Geophysical Union. It was part of Murray State’s ADVANCE program. Two mathematicians, Maeve McCarthy and Elizabeth Donovan, heard the talk and got excited about doing a similar workshop on harassment for the mathematics community.

RC: I read on the posting about the workshop that there will be sessions related to developing an action plan for departments. Can you explain a little more about what those action plans entail and how those sessions will help participants develop those?

Vrushali Bokil: We have adopted the idea of using action plans to provide an avenue for each participant of our workshop to participate in social transformation in the mathematical sciences. The idea of using action plans is based on the work of the ADVANCE program at Oregon State University (https://advance.oregonstate.edu/advance-seminar-action-plans).

As part of the Moving Towards Action Workshop, all participants are requested to apply the knowledge of issues around sexual harassment in the mathematical sciences that they acquire in our workshop by proposing actions to create change within their spheres of influence. An action plan template will be provided to all participants to help them think of the actions they could take to further the work of improving the climate at their institutions or within the mathematical community.

Oregon State ADVANCE co-PI Tuba Özkan-Haller will give a talk on how action plans have been created and implemented at Oregon State University within its ADVANCE program activities and the impact that they have had at the personal, symbolic and institutional levels. Professor Özkan-Haller will also lead participants in drafting their own action plans using the provided template.

RC: What are some of the key things you hope participants will take away from the workshop?

MM: We hope to equip participants with tools for making cultural shifts in their departments and in the mathematics community.

RC: If you had to choose just three pieces of advice about how departments can be more welcoming to all, what would you pick?

MM: 1. Harassment must be stopped. 2. An atmosphere of inclusion is imperative. 3. Changes can have a bigger impact than we think.

RC: Is there anything else you would like to share about the workshop or related to the topic of improving the culture and climate in math?

MM: We’re particularly excited to have the University of New Hampshire’s PowerPlay group do a Bystander Intervention program led by Stephanie Goodwin from Wright State. It’s a powerful approach and will really get the audience thinking.

Editor’s note: Unable to attend the workshop but interested in learning more on about the topics it will cover? See the list of resources and pre-readings available here.

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