Workshop on Increasing Minority Participation in Mathematics: Reflections on A Park City Mathematics Institute program

[Applications for PCMI “Shape of the River: Workshop on Equity in Mathematics Education” are open until March 7, 2018.]

Guest Post by Martha Shott
Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics
Sonoma State University

Question: What are you hoping to get out of the Workshop on Increasing Minority Participation in Mathematics?

This prompt in my application to last year’s Park City Mathematics Institute gave me pause. Leading up to this question, the online form had asked for information that I am able to give on autopilot (name, title, institution, email address) as well as information that is relatively easy to speak to (e.g., how did you hear about this program?). But in considering my motivation for attending, my hopes for how I would benefit from the week-long program was a little bit harder to verbalize.

It wasn’t the case that I was unsure of what I wanted to achieve through my participation – on the contrary, I had specific concerns in mind from my home institution that had incited me to apply to the PCMI workshop. Our department was just beginning to develop four new “stretch” courses that were to replace our developmental courses in elementary and intermediate algebra – two places that we most often interacted with students typically underrepresented in math before they disappeared from our program. I was also thinking of the interdisciplinary science course that I teach for first-year students. That program was initially funded through an NSF grant which, in part, was aimed at closing the achievement gap in STEM – yet the student cohorts we have been able to recruit into that class have been dominated by white males, a trend that is not observed in other comparable general education courses.

Given that I had good reasons to apply to the Workshop on Increasing Minority Participation (WMP), why did I hesitate in my application? Continue reading

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Raise your hand if you were just rejected by the NSF! Fun times, right? I don’t know about you, but I like to celebrate such occasions with a full re-evaluation of all of my life choices. So of course, I am currently wondering whether I should stay in academic math. It’s a question I have been asked and I have asked myself way more often than my more successful or more white-male-type colleagues have (as far as I can tell). When you don’t fit in, whenever there is some sort of friction, suddenly you have to justify your continued presence.

I wasn’t always wondering if I should do math. In fact, I loved math and was comfortable being associated with math for my entire childhood. College was the first time I hit a set-back. I immediately quit math and moved on with my life. That is, until I un-quit and decided to go to graduate school. Ever since then, I have had two strong and conflicting feelings about being in math.

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Posted in mathematics experiences, minorities in math, participation, racism, sexism, women in math | 6 Comments

Here, There and Back Again: Developing Pre-Service Teachers’ Racial Consciousness Abroad

Guest post by Dr. Mike Egan of Augustana College.

Here

“If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left. Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later. I suffered at the hands of both, but I resent the schools more.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ deservedly acclaimed Between the World and Me provides an honest and jarring window into his experience as a Black man in present-day America. His portrayal of his time in the K-12 school system is particularly unsettling: he describes monotonous rote instruction, a not-so-implicit curriculum that esteems conformity over creativity, civics lessons preaching social passivity over political action, and worse. “I came to see the streets and schools as arms of the same beast,” he writes. “[F]ear and violence were the weaponry of both.”

These messages can readily be taken as an affront to members of the predominantly white American teaching force that serve a majority non-white population of students. Speaking for myself as one member of this force, I must acknowledge a feeling of defensiveness come on as far as Coates’ words might be applied to my own practice. I accept my imperfections as a teacher, but surely I’m no agent of fear and violence, right? My defensive impulse subsides when I recognize that Coates is not pointing directly at my classroom, but rather at a collective system that effectively serves to maintain the privileges of some while limiting or outright damaging the humanity of others. I have come to take ownership of the painful and unfortunate fact that, as a (White) teacher in this system, I am a contributor to its unjust totality. I suspect that White readers of this blog have arrived at similar conclusions, and perhaps share my view that we must develop a critical mass of justice-minded White folks who will acknowledge the dehumanizing effects of institutional racism and collectively work at the side of all who seek justice to dismantle a system built on White privilege.

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Posted in inclusive pedagogy, international study, math education, racism, social justice, supporting students, teacher education | 2 Comments

We can be better

As many of us look forward to the sense of community at the Joint Meetings this week, we should remember that conferences include many situations that are fraught with the danger of harassment and alienation, especially for people in our community with less power or privilege. We can be better.

This short post was inspired by the attention that has recently publicized harassment and marginalization issues at Political Science, Psychology, and other disciplinary conferences. Below, you will find list of articles, ranging from first-person narratives to survey research to suggestions for code-of-conduct policies. Because the articles below are from other disciplines, I thought I would share three short anecdotes that I have observed at math conferences to help connect with these articles.

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Posted in ableism, bystander intervention, conferences, introduction | 1 Comment

inclusion/exclusion roundup of JMM events

A little thing called the Joint Mathematics Meetings is happening in San Diego next week. How little? I got some data from the Public Awareness Office of the AMS , and they are estimating about 6000 attendees, and over 3000 presentations! If you read this blog, you probably care about issues of equity, inclusion, justice, and diversity in the mathematical sciences, so we thought we would help you out with your JMM planning by sifting through the program and selecting the activities that closely fit these descriptions. The PA Office actually did some of this legwork already in their virtual pressroom, so there will be some overlap with the information there, but I thought I would also classify things a bit further and add a few things of interest.

Just to explain my decision process, I went through the full program (starting on Wednesday) and chose either events that were explicitly about equity, inclusion, diversity, and social justice, or events promoted by groups that primarily support underrepresented mathematicians (like the Association for Women in Mathematics and the National Association of Mathematicians). By “events” I mean invited addresses, special sessions, panels, social events, and minicourses. There could potentially be a talk about equity in math education in a flipped math special session, for example, but I didn’t sift through the program that carefully. So if there is something I missed that you think should get some attention and promotion, please share in the comments section below. And hope to see you all at the JMM (where I will be blogging with some very cool people: Kelsey Houston Edwards, Beth Malmskog, Karen Saxe, and Ben Thompson).

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Posted in conferences, equity, i/e Spotlight, inclusive pedagogy, joint mathematics meetings, LGBTQ+, minorities in math, social justice, spectra, women in math | 5 Comments

Learning for EveryBody: Lessons from Susan Burch

Last week, Bates hosted speaker Susan Burch, from Middlebury College, for a workshop called “Learning for EveryBody: Inclusive Teaching and Curricular Practices”. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the interactive session and later have dinner with the speaker, and in this post, I wanted to first share some of the main ideas from the workshop, and also some of my own ideas on how this could be applied to the mathematics classroom.

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Posted in equity, inclusive pedagogy, inquiry, math education, supporting students, transparency in teaching, universal design | 3 Comments

If you build it, they will come: the Math Alliance and the Field of Dreams conference

A few weeks ago I attended the 2017 Field of Dreams conference. This is the annual gathering of Scholars and Mentors of the Math Alliance. I wasn’t really aware of this group until about a year ago, when I heard about it from Edray Goins. Even then, I don’t think I understood the reach and the power of the alliance until I attended the conference. With this post, I hope to bring more attention to the important work being done by the Math Alliance and their sponsors.

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Posted in conferences, graduate school, mentoring, minorities in math, retention | Leave a comment

Complicit Function Theorem

This week, I was separated by small degrees from two separate acts of terrorism motivated by hate. (1) Students and faculty/staff on my campus had set up a local version of The Clothesline Project, in which survivors of sexual violence and those close to them write affirming messages on t-shirts that are displayed on a clothesline. Someone set part of the clothesline and the shirts on fire. (2) Dr Rochelle Gutiérrez, whose research integrates ideas of access, identity, power, and achievement in mathematics education, has written about how white privilege is perpetuated by the ways we view and practice mathematics. She is being doxxed and threatened by conservative sites on social media. [As you may have guessed, the examples in this post may be intense for some readers.]

Complicit Function Theorem: Acts* of violence, intimidation, and hatred will happen if and only if the agents of these actions can view themselves as part of a larger group that agrees with them and believes that it is on the side of right.

Corollary: In particular, not participating in overt aspects of oppression is not sufficient to stop acts of violence, intimidation, and hatred; the majority must be overtly and actively anti-oppression. A silent majority that simply does not engage in these acts is complicit in the hateful outcomes.

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Posted in bystander intervention, cultural pressure in academia, gender research, implicit bias, intersectionality, introduction, mental health, minorities in math, public scholarship, racism, sexism, social media, victim-blaming, women in math | Leave a comment

The Secret Lives of Mathematicians: Conversations with Students

This keeps happening to me:

Student: When did you decide to become a calculus teacher?
Me: I didn’t, and I’m not.
Student: …

And then I laugh reassuringly and explain that they are at a research university and that their professors are people who decided they wanted to do research. Many of us do also enjoy and care about teaching, but the way the system works we are basically discouraged from caring too much about teaching. I tell them that the idea is that those doing cutting-edge research in a field are inherently valuable as mentors, role models, and educators simply because we might have the ideas, perseverance, and dedication to make it in academia. Of course, this is a highly flawed philosophy. (Some of this was discussed in Edray’s post which you should read if you haven’t already.)

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Posted in mathematics experiences, mentoring, supporting students | 7 Comments

On performing queerness and mathematics: Emily Riehl interviews Mike Hill

(Guest post by Emily Riehl.)

A few months ago, after our post for Pride month, the i/e editorial board reached out to Spectra to request a guest blog post. That led to the wonderful interview that follows, which was conducted during the Floer Homology and Homotopy Theory summer school, co-organized by Mike and at which Emily spoke, that was held at UCLA in July.

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Posted in LGBTQ+, mentoring, pride, spectra | 2 Comments