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Abstracts

Judit Camacho: “What Does Mathematics Have to Do with You, Me, and US?”

As the United States (US) becomes more diverse, there is an increasing need to have all of our populations included in the scientific enterprise, especially those from historically underrepresented communities. Mathematics, which forms the language of science, is a golden key to accessing all that the scientific world has to offer. you can play a vital role in providing this key to the US, helping everyone in our nation fully participate in society, and rebuilding this nation's economic infrastructure and science leadership.

During this presentation we will explore what organizations like SACNAS are doing to help individuals and communities from underrepresented backgrounds gain access to science and mathematics education, research, teaching careers, and positions of leadership. We will also share ideas of how you can participate in local, regional, and national efforts to improve participation of all communities in mathematics.

Illya Hicks: “Are You Ready For Some Football?!!”

With the occurrence of this conference aligned with Super Bowl weekend, it is befitting to focus on a unique perspective on broadening participation in the mathematical sciences: football. Maybe football can help. Believe it or not, football and mathematics have some similarities. We will explore these similarities and discuss ways that mathematicians can learn from football how to engage more citizens from groups that are currently underrepresented in the discipline. Hence, the focus will be on two things I am passionate about: football and diversity within mathematics.

Phillip Kutzko: “Just Walk Away, René—Cultural Issues in Broadening Participation in Mathematics”

Science, as we know it today, developed in a particular time and place for reasons that have never fully been explained. The concept of a function—a concept that underlies all of modern science—first appears in Descartes' La Géometrie in 1637; within a generation, Newton and Leibniz had developed the calculus and Newton had laid the foundation for modern physics. Similar transformative advances occurred shortly thereafter in chemistry, biology and medicine. This is the context in which we do science today; a West European, Cartesian context in an increasingly non-European nation.

The Western approach to science embodies certain cultural values, among them skepticism, objectivity, secularism and a belief in progress as an unmixed virtue. These values are by no means universally accepted, either internationally or within our own country. Further, they have sometimes been used to justify aggression and sometimes worse by Europeans and their descendants in the Americas against other ethnic groups and even against groups within European society. This, it would seem, is reason enough for underrepresented minority groups and other Americans who have not historically been invited to the table to steer clear of European science.

Any approach toward broadening participation in science that fails to take into account this cultural context can only go so far. Examples are afforded by standardized testing and affirmative action each of which is ultimately motivated by the same goal: to remove impediments to access caused by overt ethnic and class discrimination (standardized tests) and by the consequences of such discrimination (affirmative action). Both have been valuable in extending access to ethnic and national groups who have found Western science culturally appealing as well as to individuals with similar proclivities from underrepresented groups; indeed, the use of standardized testing transformed the populations doing science during the Sputnik era while affirmative action has been responsible for similar transformations in more recent times. However, these and other strategies that have focused largely on removing barriers to inclusion may be nearing the limit of their utility.

One of the distinctive features of our math department's initiative to broaden participation in our graduate program is the awareness we have developed of the cultural context in which our effort takes place. I will discuss this cultural context in my talk and argue that an understanding of this context can lead to new strategies, strategies which, in our case, have transformed a traditional mathematics department in an ethnically homogeneous state into what some have called a model for what an American math department should look like in the twenty-first century.