“Re-imagining Undergraduate Mathematics…with Structural Disruptions”: Vanderbilt Professor Denounces the Math Field as Racist

We recently discussed a professor who declared that astrophysics is racist due to its focus on “individualism” and exceptionalism.” These critiques are part of a larger movement alleging that everything from math to meritocracy is racist. The latest controversy centers around a lecture by Luis Leyva, associate professor of mathematics education at Vanderbilt University entitled “Undergraduate Mathematics Education as a White, Cisheteropatriarchal Space and Opportunities for Structural Disruption to Advance Queer of Color Justice.” In other words, math is a racist field of study advancing white male, straight “conforming-to-assigned sex” individuals.

Leyva advocates the “re-imagining undergraduate mathematics education with structural disruptions that advance justice for learners marginalized across intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.”

This is part of a growing movement across the country. We previously discussed the view of University of Rhode Island and Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist.” Others have agreed with that view, including denouncing math as racist or a “tool of whiteness.” There are also calls for the “decolonization” of math as a field.

Leyva does not address meritocracy, which has been denounced by others. The controversy over meritocracy recently enveloped Virginia high schools after various schools admitted to withholding National Merit awards. Some parents allege that they were told the withholding of the awards was to support efforts toward greater equity in schools.

Various teachers and professors have objected that meritocracy is a tool of white supremacy. For example, Alison Collins, the Vice President of the San Francisco Board of Education, declared meritocracy to be racist even in the selection of students at advanced or gifted programs. As we have previously discussed, this has been a building campaign in academia as educators and others denounce selection based on academic performance through testing.  Most cities have such gifted programs or institutions, though we have discussed calls for the elimination of all gifted and talented programs in cities like New York.

I can appreciate the calls for greater efforts to develop math skills and teachers in underrepresented populations. I hope that we are all committed to that goal. That does not require “structural disruptions” as opposed to outreach and supportive programs.

It is the repeated calls to “decolonize” math that are most concerning. Math has always been one of the greatest equalizers, no pun intended.  As I discussed earlier, it is a shame to see math treated as a field of privilege when many of us view it as a field of pure intellectual pursuit and bias neutrality.  Either the math is there or it is not.  The race of the mathematician will not change the outcome.

216 thoughts on ““Re-imagining Undergraduate Mathematics…with Structural Disruptions”: Vanderbilt Professor Denounces the Math Field as Racist”

  1. A lot of intelligent white people aren’t cut out for advanced math and science. And if someone is confused about what sex they are the only job they are qualified for is in the Biden administration.

  2. Let POCs act like successful Asian students for a decade. That is, get up, study, go to school, pay attention, do the assigned work, come home and study. Go to sleep . Repeat. If after a decade there is still a dramatic difference in outcome, we can talk.

    1. Asians have outscored whites in all the standardized math tests since they have been given. The gap grew dramatically after the sabotage of math education by the “new math”. After that all the graduate departments in math and science were dominated by Asians of both foreign and domestic ancestry.

      There is one more Fly in the Ointment and that’s the Jews. Any statistical series brave enough to separate them out as a group shows that they outscore everybody and totally dominate the top math prize and until very recently. the Nobels too.

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