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Even math is tainted by racism, says Wake Forest professor as school launches ‘anti-racist uses of math’ class

Not a joke

Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Even math is racist, according to the faculty at Wake Forest University.

A recent write-up in the school's newspaper, Old Gold & Black, outlines a one-credit course currently offered by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in which students learn about the many ways in which mathematical and statistical models have been employed to foment racism.

What are the details?

The course, officially titled "Racist/Anti-Racist Uses of Math & Stats," is taught by department chair Sarah Raynor and reportedly deals with "biases in math and statistics" that ultimately result in racist policies such as "over-policing in majority-minority areas to practices in hiring."

It has been run as a discussion-based course using the textbook, "Weapons of Math Destruction," written by mathematician and Occupy Wall Street member, Cathy O'Neil.

In an August memo obtained by the College Fix, Raynor informed colleagues that the course would be offered as a response to the "racism and bias to which so many are subjected on a daily basis, punishing bodies and minds through no fault of their own."

"Like all entrenched systems, our department is not innocent of racism," Raynor wrote in the memo. "The time has come for us to focus on fighting racism and making plans to create a more equitable educational space."

In addition to the brand-new class, Raynor noted that the department would be launching a department-level bias reporting system to help fight racism.

What else?

Raynor told the school paper that she and other math faculty hope that the course will expand into a variety of similar courses dealing with the intersection of math and societal issues such as racism, sexism, and anti-queerness.

"What we're probably going to create is a course called Mathematics and Society ... there are like 8 or 10 different topics that I think would be reasonable ways to go," she said.

She noted that while only eight students are currently enrolled in the class, she expects they'll "get more [students] as the word gets out."

"We didn't even know we wanted to do this until late-summer. We have 8 students, which I think is pretty good for a course that's weird and doesn't really help you graduate," Raynor said.

Yet even those who are not enrolled in the class can be a part of the effort to "decolonize the department," as the school paper puts it. Every other Monday at 4 p.m., Raynor and other interested parties meet to discuss the issues.

"You don't have to be a declared math major or an upper-level student or anything, you just have to have interest in how the math department is handling racism and antiracism and other systemic inequity issues to show up, and we would love to hear from students at all levels," she noted.

One last thing…
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