Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Student Input and Some Next Steps: Spring, 2021

Throughout the 2020-21 academic year we gathered input from our students about our work on Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE) and how they experience our department community. We were interested in hearing from all of our students, but we especially wanted to learn more about the experiences of our students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color (BIPOC).  

Our goal in this document is to share what we learned and to describe the steps we plan to take in response. We are planning additional IDE initiatives aimed at making our department and community as welcoming and inclusive as possible, which are not mentioned in this document. We will describe these additional initiatives in other venues, as we develop our plans for them.

Gathering Data

The input we gathered from students came primarily from three events we held during winter term.

  • In January of 2021 we held a listening session for BIPOC students who took courses in our introductory sequences (specifically, Math 101, 111, 120, 210, 211, 232, 240 and Stat 120, 220, 230 or their math equivalents) in the fall of 2019, the winter of 2020, or the fall of 2020. We asked in particular about how well-supported (or not) they felt by the department, about any barriers to success in math or stats they have observed here, and about specific ways faculty can make their classrooms more supportive of BIPOC students. Four students participated, and they shared a variety of important insights and suggestions.
  • On February 2, 2021, we held a discussion of the documentary Picture a Scientist, which had been available for viewing on Vimeo. Seven students participated in this conversation, and they shared a couple of things faculty can do to make our community more welcoming to women and other minoritized students.
  • On February 5, 2021, we held a Tour of Mathematics Anti-Racism session, in place of one of our usual talks in the Tour of Mathematics (Math 206). As part of that session, students in the Tour discussed IDE work our department has been doing, and offered suggestions for new IDE initiatives. Approximately 55 students participated.

Appreciation

We’re grateful to all of the students who participated in these events, and who contributed their insights and suggestions. Thank you! Your participation in these conversations makes our department stronger, and helps us find ways to better foster the welcoming and inclusive community we want.

Themes

Each of our events touched on different aspects of the student experience in our department and of our IDE work, but several themes emerged.

On the conversations themselves:

  • Students appreciate these conversations. In fact, they want to continue to have conversations about racism, diversity, and marginalization, as they play out in our community and in the broader fields of mathematics and statistics, both now and in the past.
  • At the same time, students noted that Carleton has had conversations on these topics in the past, often without any apparent change. They want to see meaningful action to address the issues these conversations uncover.

On the make-up of our department:

  • Many students felt our department would benefit from having a more diverse faculty, and especially from having more BIPOC faculty members.

On feeling welcome in their courses in our department:

  • Students found their courses more welcoming when they felt they were seen as whole people, and when they could see their professors as whole people. They value getting to know, and being known by, their professors beyond the subject of the course.
  • Students also found their courses more welcoming when their professors had flexible policies around grading, late work, scheduling of office hours, etc.
  • Students reported that it is helpful when professors make it clear starting on the first day of class that they are allies and committed to antiracist and IDE aims. 

And a couple of other topics:

  • Students felt it would be useful to advertise opportunities that are particularly relevant for minoritized students. These could be opportunities specifically for BIPOC, first-generation, or gender minority students, or they could be opportunities known informally to be especially good for such students.
  • Different students reported different experiences with the Math Skills Center (MSC). Some found it an essential part of their success in our courses, while others found it difficult to feel comfortable there, or to even bring themselves to go in.

Next Steps

Based on these conversations, our department plans to take the following steps.

  • We will work to provide formal opportunities for our students, especially our BIPOC students, to tell us how they experience our community and our courses, and we will continue to take action to improve, based on feedback we receive.
  • Our department is committed to diversifying our faculty along many dimensions, including race, ethnicity, first-generation status, gender, and socioeconomic status of origin. We will continue our efforts to hire a diverse collection of faculty members, e.g. by using hiring criteria that value contributions to diversity in our department, by using hiring practices that aim to reduce implicit bias, and by advertising positions and outreach to appropriate organizations. We will also work to foster a welcoming, supportive, and equitable working environment for all of our faculty.
  • In the fall of 2019 we introduced activities to the training of Math Skills Center tutors aimed at helping them build a welcoming and inclusive environment in the MSC. In the fall of 2020 we added activities to this part of tutor training aimed at surfacing ways race can influence interaction in the MSC and at raising awareness of implicit bias. We will further expand and refine the training of Math Skills Center tutors to make the MSC as welcoming and inclusive as possible to all students.
  • In 2021-22 we will start to create a textbook library where students can borrow textbooks for their Mathematics and Statistics courses, when buying or renting those books would be a significant financial burden.
  • We will seek out and advertise opportunities that are particularly relevant to minoritized students.
  • In 2021-2022 we will begin experimenting with using TAs and prefects in some of our introductory classes as an additional avenue of support for our students.
  • Several of the suggestions students made concerned interpersonal interactions and class specific policies on late assignments, collaboration, assessment strategies, etc. These seem best addressed by individual faculty in their specific classes, rather than as department initiatives. We will maintain, regularly update, and circulate a document with student comments and suggestions that arise in IDE conversations. We will also regularly seek, share, and reflect on best practices and new pedagogical approaches.