Episode 245: Allyship
One of the reasons we started this podcast in 2013 was to provide a more realistic picture of mathematics and of the way mathematicians work. On Nov. 19 2021 Gudrun talked to Stephanie Anne Salomone who is Professor and Chair in Mathematics at the University of Portland. She is also Director of the STEM Education and Outreach Center and Faculty Athletic Representative at UP. She is an Associate Director of Project NExT, a program of the Mathematical Association of America that provides networking and professional development opportunities to mathematics faculty who are new to our profession. She is a wife and mother of three boys, Milo (13), Jude (10), and Theodore (8).
This conversation started on Twitter in the summer of 2021. There Stephanie (under the twitter handle @SitDownPee) and @stanyoshinobu Dr. Stan Yoshinobu invited their fellow mathematicians to the following workshop: Come help us build gender equity in mathematics! Picture a Mathematician workshop led by @stanyoshinobu Dr. Stan Yoshinobu and me, designed for men in math, but all genders welcome. Gudrun was curious to learn more and followed the provided link:
Gender equity in the mathematical sciences and in the academy broadly is not yet a reality. Women (and people of color, and other historically excluded groups) are confronted with systemic biases, daily experiences, feelings of not being welcome or included, that in the aggregate push them out of the mathematical sciences. This workshop is designed primarily for men in math (although all genders are welcome to participate) to inform and inspire them to better see some of the key issues with empathy, and then to take action in creating a level-playing field in the academy.
Workshop activities include viewing “Picture a Scientist” before the workshop, a 2-hour synchronous workshop via zoom, and follow-up discussions via email and Discord server. *All genders welcome AND this workshop is designed for men to be allies.
This idea resonated strongly with Gudrun's experiences: Of course women and other groups which are minorities in research have to speak out to fight for their place but things move forward only if people with power join the cause. At the moment people with power in mathematical research mostly means white men. That is true for the US where Stephanie is working as well as in Germany. Allyship is a concept which was introduced by people of colour to name white people fighting for racial justice at their side. Of course, it is a concept which helps in all situations where a group is less powerful than another. Men working for the advancement of non-male mathematicians is strictly necessary in order for equality of chances and a diversity of people in mathematics to be achieved in the next generation. And to be clear: this has nothing to do with counting heads but it is about not ruining the future of mathematics as a discipline by creating obstacles for mathematicians with minoritized identities.
The important question is: How is it possible to educate men and especially powerful white men to become allies?
The idea of this first workshop designed by Stephanie and Stan was to invite men already interested in learning more and to build a basis with the documentary Picture a scientist (2020).
PICTURE A SCIENTIST chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, and geologist Jane Willenbring lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we encounter scientific luminaries - including social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists - who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all. (from the webpage)
In this film there are no mathematicians, but the situations in sciences and mathematics are very similar and for that it lends itself to show the situation.
In the podcast conversation Gudrun and Stephanie talk about why and in what way the documentary spoke to them. The huge and small obstacles in their own work as women mathematicians which do not make them feel welcome in a field they feel passionate about. The film shows what happens to women in Science. It shows also men in different roles. Obviously there are the bullies. Then there are the bystanders. There are universities which allow women to be hired and give them the smallest space available. But there are also men who consider themselves friends of their female collaegues who cannot believe that they did not notice how the behaviour of other men (and their own behavior in not taking a side). Seeing this play out over the course of the film is not a comfortable watch, and perhaps because of this discomfort, we hope to build empathy.
On the other hand, there is a story of women scientists who noticed that they were not treated as well as their male colleagues and who found each other to fight for office space and the recognition of their work. They succeded a generation ago.
The general idea of the workshop was to start with the documentary and to talk about different people and their role in the film in order to take them as prototypical for roles which we happen to observe in our life and which we might happen to play. This discussion in groups was moderated and guided in order to make this a safe space for everyone.
Stephanie spoke about how we have to let men grow into their responsibility to speak out against a hostile atmosphere at university created mostly by men. In the workshop it was possible to first develop and then train for possible responses in situations which ask for men stepping in as an ally.
The next iteration of the workshop Picture a Mathematician will be on May 11.
Biography: Stephanie Salomone earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics from UCLA in 2005 and joined the faculty at the University of Portland that year. She serves as Professor and Chair of Mathematics and Director of the STEM Education and Outreach Center at UP, as well as the Faculty Athletic Representative. She is an Associate Director of Project NExT, a national professional development program for new higher-education mathematics faculty. She was the PI on the NSF REFLECT program, advancing the use of evidence-based practices in STEM teaching at UP and the use of peer-observation for formative assessment of teaching, and has managed a combined $1.6 million as the PI on a subaward of the Western Regional Noyce Alliance grant and as PI of the NSF Noyce Program at UP. She is on the Board of Directors for Saturday Academy, a local 501c3 whose mission is to engage children in hands-on STEM learning. Dr. Salomone is the recipient of UP’s 2009 Outstanding Teaching Award and the recipient of the 2019 Oregon Academy of Sciences Outstanding Educator in STEM Higher Education Award.
Literature and further information
- Allyship: What It Means to Be an Ally, Tulane university, School of social work
- Guide to allyship
- Ernest, Reinholz, and Shah: Hidden Competence: women’s mathematical participation in public and private classroom spaces, Educ Stud Math 102, 153–172 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-019-09910-w
- J.R. Cimpian, T.H. Kimand, Z.T. McDermott: Understanding persistent gender gaps in STEM, Science 368, Issue 6497, 1317-1319 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aba7377
- S.J. Ceci and W.M. Williams: Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science PNAS 108 3157–3162 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1014871108
- Inquirybased learning site
- Equatiy and teaching math Blog post by Stan Yoshinobu