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College math is ‘racist and discriminatory against queer people,’ professor claims

Even college courses, like math, are discriminatory and their practices are upheld by white supremacy—at least that’s what a Vanderbilt professor has found out.

Earlier this January, Vanderbilt University assistant professor Luis Leyva, who teaches math education, delivered a lecture at the Joint Mathematics Meetings 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts, arguing that college mathematics education is “white” and “cisheteropatriarchal.”

In the two-part lecture Leyva conducted, he presented the arguments and findings from his 2022 studies that detailed the experiences of queer and trans students of color who were pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors.

During the first half of the lecture, Leyva used his analytical framework STEM Education as a White, Cisheteropatriarchal Space to “capture” the intersectionality of oppressions experienced by queer and trans people of color.

“Findings depict how Black, Latin, and Asian queer and trans students’ narratives of experience reflect forms of intersectionality, or instances of oppression and resistance at intersecting systems of white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy (or white cisheteropatriarchy),” Leyva stated in the abstract of his lecture.

“I use my analytical framework ‘STEM Education as a White, Cisheteropatriarchal Space’ to capture how intersectional oppression among queer and trans students of color unfolds across three interconnected levels of influence in undergraduate STEM: ideological, institutional, and relational,” he added.

Leyva continued that the findings of his study highlighted the “structural disruptions that resist intersectional oppression” in undergraduate STEM, such as educational structures and practices. The study also suggested coping strategies for queer and trans students of color to protect not only their academic success but also their intersectional identities.

On the other hand, Leyva gave a much more detailed elaboration in the second part of his lecture as to why he argued that college mathematics education is a “white, cisheteropatriarchal space.”

According to Leyva and his colleagues’ study, the framework of STEM Education as a White, Cisheteropatriarchal Space was created right after another study by Leyva in 2016 where he found out about the intersectionality of experiences among undergraduate queer and trans students of color in STEM majors.

In the same study, he explained that this framework offered a lens to investigate “how white cisheteropatriarchy across STEM disciplines is reinforced and disrupted to shape the intersectionality of experiences among but not limited to queer and trans students of color.”

Leyva further elaborated that as undergraduate mathematics education continues to operate as a white, cisheteropatriarchal space, it “limits learning opportunities affirming of queer of color identities and experiences.”

“I conclude by re-imagining undergraduate mathematics education with structural disruptions that advance justice for learners marginalized across intersections of race, gender, and sexuality,” he added. “This re-imagining accounts for ideological, institutional, and relational forms of disruption that interrogate dominant forms of knowledge production as well as expand access to learning opportunities and departmental support that affirm queer of color identities.”

Leyva’s research focused more on gender studies, higher education, and STEM, exploring the “narratives of oppression and agency across historically marginalized groups’ educational experiences” to unveil how undergraduate STEM is upheld by racism and cisheteropatriarchy. His works have been recognized by different associations, such as the American Educational Research Association, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Academy of Education, among others.

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