New math class creates opportunity to drive social change
A new course taught by Truman L. Koehler ’24 math professor Linda McGuire is one of the math and computer science department’s latest efforts designed to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the discipline.
By: Heather Mayer Irvine
Thursday, March 10, 2022 3:55 PM
Truman L. Koehler ’24 math teacher Linda McGuire talks to a student in October 2019.
Truman L. Koehler ’24 Professor of Mathematics Linda McGuireMathematics for Social Justice, launching in the Spring 2022 semester, shows students how math can help them understand and critique public discourse, evaluate data in the public sphere, and ask deep, well-informed questions. .
“We want to show them how math can support their efforts to drive change,” she says.
McGuire knows that the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field can be daunting; 40% of interested students change majors before graduation. She hopes a course designed to show the real-world uses of math will attract students who might not otherwise focus on STEM and allow those students to apply what they learn to advance social justice efforts. .
McGuire students study algorithms and the role they play in everyday life. For example, in predictive policing, computer systems analyze data to determine where to deploy police or to identify people who might be more likely to report or become victims of a crime. Algorithms can be used during hiring processes to determine who might be shortlisted for an interview based on numbers alone.
“We look at some basic math and suggest how these algorithms work under the hood,” says McGuire. The course, she says, will show students the limits of relying solely on math in more complex situations than numbers alone would suggest.
This type of information can cause software developers to question how a particular program is developed, causing them to rethink that process.
“That alone can lead to a powerful outcome,” she says.
Abbey Robuck ’24, an international studies major, was hesitant to take a math course to meet the reasoning curriculum requirements. But she trusted McGuire and was intrigued by the course.
“I loved the idea of incorporating the humanities into a math class,” she says. “It made the course more accessible and allowed me to learn about social justice in a new and different way.”
McGuire is excited about the prospect of the course’s future; the spring section filled up and it was approved for the fall semester.
“Our department knew the course had the potential to attract students because so many students at Muhlenberg College are interested in activism and social justice,” McGuire said. “It aligns with our liberal arts mission, and students will bring different experiences.”
Harli Strauss-Cohn ’24, a double major in sustainability studies and international studies with a focus on gender and sexuality, chose the course because it met a requirement while also having the potential to help them use mathematics in their real interests, including predictive policing and other inequity issues.
“This course continues to expand my knowledge of mathematics and its impact on people and our politics, which will benefit me as I try to work, vote and act for justice and restructure practices and harmful structures,” says Strauss-Cohn.