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Inequalities in Equations

The appalling gender gap in Harvard’s Mathematics Department requires immediate action.

The striking gender gap in Harvard’s Mathematics Department is not surprising for those who concentrate in this field—and especially not for non-male students, who face daily struggles and self-doubt in their academic pursuits. However, the data on gender demographics as well as the personal stories of non-male math concentrators illuminate to the rest of the Harvard community the apparent need to take immediate action to improve the circumstances for these students.

One challenge for non-male students concentrating in Mathematics is the gender bias within the field itself. It is caused by many factors, including an internal bias that men are inherently better at math, causing women to think they are not on the same level. More lamentably, Mathematics concentration advisers themselves may fall into this trap, as non-male students at Harvard report that their advisers and the concentration often encourage them to take the lower-level classes. While we acknowledge that there is a pre-existing gender gap in mathematics coming into Harvard College, the unfortunate experiences of non-male Mathematics students suggests that the gender bias persists and perhaps even widens during college.

The lack of diversity, and in particular the lack of faculty diversity, is not an issue limited to the Mathematics Department. Many of Harvard’s other departments face similar problems of under representation of marginalized backgrounds that reflect the disparities in academia on the national scale. The need for faculty diversification remains much-needed, and we hope it is on the agenda of administrators at Harvard.

However, while we continue to advocate for measures to diversify Harvard’s faculty, immediate steps can and must also be taken to improve the experience of current non-male Mathematics students on this campus. There are already a number of programs on this campus that aim to do this. Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, a mentorship program offered by the Harvard College Women’s Center, and Gender Inclusivity in Math, an undergraduate organization dedicated to reducing the gender gap in Harvard’s Mathematics Department, for example, recognize the need for increased support for non-male students in the Department and have created initiatives to directly tackle this issue.

But instead of solely placing the burden on non-male faculty members and non-male students to create support systems for themselves, we encourage male faculty to also take on larger roles in these programs. With a dearth of non-male faculty mentors for undergraduates, male faculty members should take the initiative in creating these mentorship relationships with non-male students. Moreover, by getting more involved in these programs, we hope that male faculty members can better understand the struggles faced by non-male students and the challenges they face in their field.

Finally, given that the student-run climate survey came with a set of recommendations by students, those leading the Mathematics Department should publicly evaluate and respond to the recommendations. It is the obligation of the Department to think critically about the issue of gender inequity in their field and to allocate more resources to resolving this issue.

In the future, we hope that the Mathematics Department will be more successful in securing female faculty, and will continue transparent conversations about its shortcomings and ways to address them in this area. This gender gap is not a new concept. This persistent problem of and the struggle to establish gender equity confirms that the legacy of gender inequity at Harvard still exists. It will be the duty of current Harvard affiliates to overcome it.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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