Feminist Theory and Research Methodologies for More Socially Affirming Undergraduate Mathematics Education

Gender research in education explores, among other things, the possible reasons for women’s lower rates of achievement and retention than those of men across STEM fields including mathematics. However, much of this scholarship, particularly in mathematics education, limits its analyses of gender to binary comparisons (namely, female-male or women-men) with males’ and men’s achievement and participation often held as standards for success (Leyva, in press). In addition, the sampled populations in this empirical work were mostly White, thus leaving mathematics achievement and participation among historically marginalized students of color at intersections of gender, race, and other social identities underexplored.

Analyses of gender as non-binary and dynamically shaped by other social identities (e.g., race, class, sexuality) hold promise in illuminating how mathematics operates as a White, heteronormatively masculinized discipline to shape variation in students’ experiences and thus further inform more inclusive educational opportunities. With mathematics serving as a gatekeeper for access to undergraduate STEM majors such as engineering and physics, the adoption of such analyses in higher education is critical for the advancement of socially-affirming learning and student support opportunities toward inclusion and broadened STEM participation.

(Image from Emily Griffith’s blog on Rhetorical Criticism.)

Feminist theory and research methodologies can be used to explore and disrupt forms of gender inequities in different parts of society, including education. Intersectionality, a theoretical perspective and methodology from Black feminist thought, allows for detailing forms of oppression and privilege that marginalized individuals uniquely experience at different intersections of their social identities such as gender, race, and sexuality (Crenshaw, 1991). In this blog post, I highlight the findings of intersectional studies from three interdisciplinary scholars — Dr. Lance McCready, Dr. Mia Ong, and Dr. Terrell Strayhorn – who pursued feminist analyses using queer of color critique, theories of body and embodiment, and the concept of othermothering. This blog post also raises questions about conceptual and methodological implications from this intersectional research for the advancement of more socially affirming undergraduate STEM educational opportunities. Please share your thoughts about the review, posed questions, and suggested references for other feminist scholarship in the comments section below.

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Posted in feminist theory, gender research, intersectionality, math education | 4 Comments

i/e Spotlight: SACNAS

As mentioned in our first post, one of the many purposes of this blog is to write about organizations focusing on supporting underrepresented people in math. In that spirit, we are starting a series called i/e Spotlight, where we feature different organizations and the many opportunities provided by them. For the first post in this series, I wanted to write about SACNAS, a Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.

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Posted in conferences, equity, i/e Spotlight, leadership, mentoring, participation, SACNAS | 3 Comments

Get Out The Way

Update June 7, 2017: For a follow-up to this post, check out Piper Harron’s personal blog, The Liberated Mathematician.
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Posted in hiring, racism, sexism, women in math | 91 Comments

Supremum/Supremacy

I’m going to say something political that some of you may not like. In the spirit of The Oatmeal, http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believeI’m going to ask you to read to the end before you decide that I cannot possibly have said what I think I said (paraphrasing Rebecca Goldstein, who is summarizing Wittgenstein on Gödel). Thanks, I appreciate it.

Here it is: mathematics is political. In this post I’m going to reflect on what this means, why I believe it, why I think it matters, and what we might do as a result.

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Posted in cultural pressure in academia, equity, implicit bias, intersectionality, introduction, math education, social justice | 10 Comments

Two Days with a Chicano Mathematician: Bill Velez visits Purdue

When I was in graduate school in mathematics at Stanford University, I was very politically active on campus.  Not only was I an officer for the Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA), but I was an officer for the Chicano Latino Graduate Students Association (CGSA) as well.  I am not Latino, but the passion and political savvy of the Chicano culture piqued my interest into becoming part of this organization.

Nearly twenty years later, I was able to bring “Chicanismo” to Purdue University by bringing William Yslas Velez to Indiana for a couple of days.

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Posted in cultural pressure in academia, mathematics experiences, participation, racism, social justice | 2 Comments

Math education in the Berkeley Hills: CIME 2017

(Guest post by Dagan Karp.)

I want to tell you about CIME, a super awesome workshop, even though it’s problematic in some of the ways that academic research-focused workshops tend to be, in my experience. What the *#&% is CIME you ask? For the past 14 years, MSRI has hosted an annual workshop on Critical Issues in Mathematics Education. I just returned from CIME 2017: Observing for Access, Power and Participation in Mathematics Classrooms as a Strategy to Improve Mathematics Teaching and Learning. (This was my third CIME.) Although there were insightful sessions centered on observation, the long subtitle didn’t do this year’s workshop justice. The workshop was demanding, situating math education within white supremacy and focusing attention on women of color. It was useful, with participants walking away with action items and a new community of collaborators. And it was fascinating, with brilliant ideas presented across a host of settings. In this post, I’ll talk about what stood out to me, including some of the challenges I saw.

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Profiles in Invisibility

When people ask me “who is your favorite superhero?”, I usually say Invisible Boy (played by the awesome Kel Mitchell) from the 90’s movie Mystery Men. Invisible Boy’s superpower is, you guessed it, invisibility, but there’s a catch: he can only become invisible when no one is looking. He says this is a power he developed after many years of being ignored. For a woman in math, it’s really not that hard to identify with this. (Also, it’s not a coincidence that he is also the only substantial black character in the movie.)

This feeling of invisibility is a feeling that I find hard to describe to people without triggering defensiveness or sounding like I am “whiny”. I have been on both sides of this (the defensive and the “whiny” sides), and I have had to do a LOT of work to try to listen instead of defending my actions/inactions. One of the things I have tried to do seems really simple, but really isn’t: if you have not experienced something, don’t assume that the person telling you about it somehow is wrong or “exaggerating” in their response. I was once riding in a cab in Ghana, and the driver was asking me about my home country, Venezuela. He found it hard to believe, at first, that I would feel safer traveling by myself in Ghana than in Venezuela; he didn’t know how dangerous Venezuela had become, especially for women. But he listened, and in the end he said: “Well, if a fish tells you that there are sharks in the water, you believe it.” Of course, the “fish” could be wrong, confused, etc., but why would you, the person outside of the water, automatically assume that you know better? This is called the “benefit of the doubt” for a reason. When we can’t be sure who’s right, let’s default to the person who has more experience.

Revenge of the invisible woman.

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Posted in implicit bias, racism, sexism, women in math | 6 Comments

A different kind of problem

Sometimes I think that what makes me successful in math makes me kind of terrible in some aspects of “real life.” A few years ago, I wrote a post for PhD+epsilon about how close I came to having a car accident for putting off car maintenance from being “too busy.”  In a way, my “success” (which we all have to admit, is an obnoxious word that just means “success as the successful people have defined it”) was related to my dedication to my job, and could have led to a terrible (or at least scary) accident. More recently, I discovered a new, more insidious problem: I was dealing with depression.

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Posted in ableism, cultural pressure in academia, mental health | 7 Comments

Equity in Review: Reflections on Equity Research Perspectives at the 2017 RUME Conference

SIGMAA on RUME

The Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (SIGMAA on RUME) was established for the advancement of quality research in undergraduate mathematics education (RUME) and its implications for teaching practices. One of the annual SIGMAA on RUME initiatives is the RUME Conference. The conference is intended to serve as an exchange of research findings from projects addressing issues related to the learning and teaching of undergraduate mathematics through plenary addresses, contributed and preliminary research paper sessions, and poster presentations. This year’s RUME Conference, jointly hosted by San Diego State University and the University of California – San Diego, was held at the Kona Kai Resort in San Diego, CA from Thursday, February 23 through Saturday, February 25 with a record-high attendance of over 350 registered conference participants.

Discussions about issues of diversity, equity, and social justice have certainly been gaining momentum in the SIGMAA on RUME community, including the 2017 RUME Conference. It has been both an honor and pleasure to participate in these important conversations over the past year. This was my second year attending the RUME Conference and serving as a co-facilitator for the Equity in Undergraduate Mathematics Education pre-conference working group with Aditya (Adi) Adiredja (The University of Arizona). I also had the honor to serve as a plenary speaker on equity research perspectives during the RUME with a View working conference funded by the National Science Foundation (Division of Undergraduate Education Grant No. 1646996) and organized by Milos Savic (The University of Oklahoma) and Gulden Karakok (University of Northern Colorado). Held on October 2016 in The University of Oklahoma, RUME with a View was a two-day working conference that focused on offering opportunities for faculty and graduate students to develop research agendas in undergraduate mathematics education. Topics spanned student learning, pre-calculus and calculus courses, proofs and problem solving, equity, and statistics and quantitative literacy.

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Posted in conferences, equity, mathematics experiences, participation, retention | 2 Comments

Inquiry and Equity

Education is, at its heart, about justice. It is the institution that empowers individuals to improve the conditions around them, to be intentional and involved citizens, to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. Or at least it should.

Cultural institutions like education can also be the mechanisms through which individuals are indoctrinated into a system that has power over them, in other words, school can be a tool of oppression. We, the community of mathematicians and mathematics educators, have been complicit in this oppression for years. We have taught students that experts are the source of mathematical knowledge/understanding/skill and that their mathematical thinking is valid only to the extent that it mimics our own. Our classrooms teach them that mathematical competence is rare, that this competence is a good proxy for intelligence, that this intelligence is determined at birth (and rarer by demographics), and that general power in our society comes from this intelligence and the financial compensation it can command. Our culture validates this rarity by suggesting that power should be concentrated in the hands of a few, that abdicating this power is normal and happier than the alternative.

In short, our discipline has denied almost every member of our society access to mathematical inquiry. In the words of Paulo Freire, “any situation in which some [people] prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). I design my courses from a perspective of inquiry-based learning (IBL) because I think it offers a chance for students to take back this power, to stop and reverse some of this violence (see AMS T&LM and DAoM). Friends and colleagues, including Aditya Adiredja, Jess Ellis, and Christine Andrews-Larson, have articulated important critiques and qualifications on this sweeping claim that I will think, read, and write about soon.

Instead, I would like to turn the lens of equity onto the community of educators who teach with inquiry. Continue reading

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