Diversity in Mathematics
Diversity is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As a Korean kid in a primarily white neighborhood and surrounded by primarily white family and friends, I was often bullied. Although, I’m sure it didn’t help that I was overweight as a child, but that’s a different story. I know my parents tried their best to make sure that I felt included and whatnot, but I always felt racism and racial undertones a lot as kid, in school, in church, and pretty much everywhere I went on a daily basis. To me, that’s not how America is supposed to be. In my America, diversity is supposed to be a good thing. In my America, diversity is supposed to be appreciated and welcomed. To that end, I’m trying to do my part by integrating diversity in mathematics topics into my classroom and into my department. Here are some of the things that I’ve done recently:
1. Create a bulletin board celebrating the International Year of Statistics
I found out that 2013 is the International Year of Statistics and so I had my work study students create this bulletin board in my department using the posters printed from the event website. Everyone who has walked by has been really intrigued by the word statistics written in so many languages. I’ve heard many discussions about what languages they think are represented on the poster. I’ve also heard many discussions about the world map with all of the uses of statistics in countries around the world. Although this was just a small bulletin board, it ended up being such a great discussion starter!
2. Discuss books on teaching Mathematics as a Language with my Math for Education Students
In my Math for Education class we talk about communicating mathematics. I always mention books that I think would be helpful for my students to read as resources for making sure that they can reach out to all of their students. I remind them that they will be working with a diverse group and that not every child that they will be teaching will speak English as their first language and not every child they will be teaching will see the world the same way that they do. Some of the books that I recommend to them are Teaching Math as a Language, ESL through Content-Area Instruction, and The Problem with Math is English. This summer I actually attended the Midwest Institute for International/Intercultural Education and created an entire module to accompany topics of cultural diversity, human rights, and social justice into my Math for Education classes. I highly encourage everyone to attend the Midwest Institute at least once! Once the module has been published and approved, I’ll let everyone know.
3. Library Fair participation by my classes
Every semester for about 2 years now, I have had my students participate in my college’s library fair. At the beginning of every semester the students are given a topic and are asked to create a tri-fold poster display that is hung up in the library for a week. In the past our topics have been Indian, Russian, and Chinese Mathematicians and Statisticians. This semester our topic is Polish Mathematicians and Statisticians. Several of my students have already told me that they are very excited about participating in the project because they are of Polish decent and this is going to give them a good opportunity to learn more about their own culture!
The library fair is open to the entire community and anyone who attends the fair and answers questions about the displays that my students have created get MMII Credit, which is essentially credit toward a free cultural competency certificate that the college offers. I always encourage all of my classes to get the certificate because I truly believe that diversity and cultural awareness is truly something that my students need to know more about. Besides that, though, I remind my students that this certificate is something that will definitely look good on their resume when they are applying to transfer to a university in the future or applying for a job.
4. Other MMII Events
In addition to the Library Fair mentioned above, I have also arranged for my students to participate in other events as well, such as:
- An “Innovation in Mathematics” Poster display at the college library
- A talk on “Women in Mathematics” by a local female graduate student
- A viewing of “Stand and Deliver” with a discussion session of diversity issues after the film
I know that what I’m doing isn’t necessarily for everyone. Some people might argue that I need to just stick to teaching mathematics and not deal with anything else at all. Honestly, I must say that most of my students have told me that they appreciate that I’m helping them to become more aware of the world around them. For example, when my students were creating the Chinese Mathematicians posters, one student found out that there was a Chinese Mathematician at the university that was thinking about applying to and she actually went to the university and interviewed him for the poster. She said that talking to the professor at the university was great confirmation for her that it was the university that she actually wanted to attend. So, you never know what type of impact these projects will have on your students. I highly encourage to incorporate diversity into your classes, whether in a big way or a small way. I know you won’t regret it!