I had the great pleasure of being present for Edray Goins’ MAA Invited Address, “A Dream Deferred: 50 Years of Blacks in Mathematics”, Thursday morning from 9 to 9:50am. This talk was a beautiful combination of history and mathematics, and a great reminder that however far we think we have come, the reality is that Black mathematicians are still vastly underrepresented in the mathematical sciences. (Full disclosure, Edray is my friend, he is a fellow Number Theorist, and he even was a fellow blogger at my other blogging home, the inclusion/exclusion blog).

Edray Goins. Photo by Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

“It’s not false, it’s just an alternative fact.” Kellyanne Conway (sort of).

Who remembers this quote? OK, I admit I don’t remember it perfectly myself, but it’s close enough. You can watch this video on YouTube if you want to see the birth of this now ubiquitous term.

So what is the responsibility of a math educator in this new world of alternative facts? That is what Kira Hamman and Dave Kung addressed in their joint guest lecture for the Quantitative Literacy SIGMAA, “The power of quantitative literacy in the era of alternative facts”.

The overarching picture is that telling stories is really hard.

Flora told us that there were three keys to talking about math so people want to listen. It turned out that a lot of people want to talk about math so people want to listen! It was a very crowded room.

I ended up on the floor in the very front, hence the angles for the photos…

Benedict Gross, this year’s AMS Colloquium series lecturer.

Benedict Gross kicked off his series of talks in the AMS Colloquium Lectures on Tuesday by speaking about the past, with a plan to reach the future of Number Theory by Friday. Gross, former MacArthur Fellow and winner of the Cole Prize in Number Theory is the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, Harvard University. The series, entitled “Complex Multiplication: Past, Present, Future,” considers the interplay between imaginary quadratic fields and the theory of elliptic curves. The area “has a long and twisted history,” according to Gross. The first talk covered the two hundred years from 1751 to 1951, beginning with Euler reviewing Fagnano’s work on the lemniscate, and beginning his investigations of “elliptic integrals” of the form

\[\int\frac{dx}{\sqrt{ax^3+bx^2+cx+d}},\]

which lead to elliptic curves. Legendre and Gauss studied positive definite binary forms up to equivalence under the special linear group SL_2(Z). The number of equivalence classes of forms with a given discriminant is called the class number of the discriminant. The connection between these class numbers (and their modern variants) and elliptic curves becomes the story of complex multiplication.

LATHISMS: showcasing the contributions of Latinx and Hispanics to the mathematical sciences

Gabriel talked about his experience in graduate school and awakening to the fact that there weren’t that many well-known women in mathematics. He talked about Noether, and enjoying this poster by the AMS of women in mathematics:

The name of this talk isn’t quite right, since they have several other math mamas tell their stories. But it’s great! If you didn’t know, I (Yen) identify strongly with this session since I had two kids while getting my Ph.D.

Alicia Prieto Langarica of Youngstown State University, who also co-organized this session, started her talk by telling us that she wouldn’t use the words “diversity” or “equity” or “Latinx” etc. and challenged us audience members to think about why she wouldn’t be using these words.

I’m a little frazzled right now because I live-blogged the last two talks and I ran off to see a friend talk in the HBCU session, but his flight was delayed so then I ran back to go to this session. Alicia is trying to push the audience into talking and interacting and it is delightful.

She opened with a series of statistics: about half of the people who intend to be math majors end up dropping out, and about 10% of math B.A.s end up going on to get a math Ph.D. (but not really, because the number of math Ph.D.s also includes international students. So the actual ratio is much lower.)

If the math major is preparing students to be academic mathematicians, then of course students won’t major in math. But people in industry do want mathematicians and students who can think logically and mathematically competently and who can translate real life problems into math problems, who have communication skills who can work with others. So how can we mathematicians help students prepare for careers in industry, by using our tools of mathematics research?

I had some technical difficulties and we’ve unfortunately lost the first few minutes of Aris Benjamin Winger of Georgia Gwinnett College, who co-facilitated the program in the last post. I remember that he discussed creating a safe space to talk about race and equity and mathematics on campus as well.

Facing the Mirror: Acknowledgement in our Practices

In his talk, Aris called out the audience (in a good way) to acknowledge our own biases and our own fraught histories with racism, sexism, and treating students in a disparate manner.

We don’t get to pick how people show up in front of us. We don’t get to pick our initial reaction to them.

Aris showed us a slide of three different people, a black man, a white man, and a black woman in six different outfits and styling.

“We treat people differently based on how they look,” he said. “We treat people who are white differently from people of color.”

Michael Young of Iowa State University talked about equity in the K-12 classroom. With his Designing for Equity by Thinking program, they worked in Pittsburgh Public Schools, which are over 70% black students and over 70% white teachers.

We narrowed in on race, we narrowed in on mathematics throughout the entire project.

The purpose of the project was to decrease the opportunity gap: they wanted to educate the teachers about groups of students who didn’t have the same opportunities as their peers. Michael talked about how this project helped him as a parent, a community member, and a teacher personally as well.

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