Wow, pandemics suck. Pandemics combined with financial insecurities and your neighborhood being bought up by the state and evicting everyone also not so great.
Like most folk out there, when the pandemic hit many things in my life changed. I don’t want to get too personal here, but there was a lot of job loss in my family and many Covid-19 scares this summer. My neighborhood was also bought up by the state so we were forced to move in the middle of all this mess. On the bright side I now own a house AND it has a gas line for my beautiful gas stove.
So my May and June were dominated by waiting to hear if my husband and I got to keep our jobs and if we’d get to afford the house we were trying to buy (terrible timing, I know). But once that whole thing died down I got to focus on better things.
I was awarded a grant to research this summer! Early in May my research group submitted a paper based on our work last summer. We then spent the summer exploring other questions we hadn’t answered yet. My collaborator, Maila, discovered an interesting way to look at our question that boils down to solving a diophantine equation. So now I finally have a research project to work with my friend Eva on! We had wanted to find something when we were both at Smith, but, alas, that did not work out then.
We’ve met each week to discuss what we’ve learned and what the data says. Like a lot of research, it full of a lot of failure until it’s not. But I’m excited because there seem to be so many ways we could approach this problem. And so going into the fall I am motivated to keep tabs on it.
I was invited to run an hour and a half workshop on Gender and sexuality for Math Swagger. I was able to get to know a (now ex) colleague better because of this session. I felt woefully unprepared to discuss this topic since I only have my life experiences to work off of. But after talking with her (a researcher in Chicanx and gender studies) I felt more prepared.
I reread works that had been shared with me and reached out for more material when I felt I was lacking information. I learned a lot more about Queer Theory and how we can use that framework to think about mathematics classes as a whole. For example, we should challenge things in a math classroom that we see as a “norm.” Is there only one way for a student to communicate mathematics in a classroom? Can we find ways to use more creative ways for a student to explain what they know and how they know it? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring. The session was wonderful, and my attendees really made it worthwhile. I’m so glad they shared so much with me and helped me to understand more perspectives.
Years ago, I added myself to a list of 500 women scientists. An aspiring mathematician reached out to me through the site and asked if she could ask about my experiences as a cis-woman mathematician. Some of the interview can be found here.
Diversity and Inclusion
After George Floyd’s death, my department reached out to our students and tried to give space for student to express themselves in zoom sessions. We did not want to stop there, as the protests have made it clear that the country is not going to suddenly be more inclusive if we wait long enough. We wanted to be more proactive. So we began a summer department workshop that will hopefully continue into the fall semester.
We discussed different readings on the research behind culturally relevant as well as assessment of past math reforms, like Common Core. We then talked about things we’d like to do this coming semester from what we learned. We each shared things about what we can do on our first day to get more connected with our students, and what changes we can make in the syllabus for it to have a more universal design.
Three actions I read that were more concrete were:
- Valuing our students and making sure they feel ethnically and culturally validated.
- Have high expectations for student success.
- Have students experience connections with their teachers, classrooms, and school.
Because of these sessions, I learned more about what my department is already doing. I also was encouraged and was able to refine some of what I was doing in the classroom before. I also learned more about ungrading, and more actions I can take to support my students. Because of these workshops, we were able to get a survey out to the students on inclusivity and belonging. The students will be discussing the survey and other suggestions at our faculty retreat on Monday. I am excited to see what my colleagues will do with the information.
My college also had several session on race and racism and these session prompted me to finally read So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. There was so much information here, and I took lots of notes. One thing I’ll be thinking more about moving forward is on intersectionality. Some questions she recommended asking yourself:
- How might race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, or sex impact this subject?
- Could the identity differences between me and the person I’m talking with be contributing to our differences of opinion and perspective?
What I didn’t do on my summer vacation:
I have not gotten better at writing, and I have not been socializing often. So teaching’s going to be an adventure this semester for so many reasons. I also did not solve the Riemann Hypothesis. Drat. Maybe next year.