I’m breaking up with my oppressive professional society

Professional Societies

Diversity Landscape in the Mathematical Sciences

My Break-Up, Part 1

In 1950 the Regents of the University of California required all UC faculty to sign a statement asserting that “I am not a member of, nor do I support any party or organization that believes in, advocates, or teaches the overthrow of the United States Government, by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means, that I am not a member of the Communist Party.” Eventually thirty-one faculty members were fired over their refusal to sign… Faculty at universities across the country are facing an echo of the loyalty oath, a mandatory “Diversity Statement” for job applicants. The professed purpose is to identify candidates who have the skills and experience to advance institutional diversity and equity goals. In reality it’s a political test, and it’s a political test with teeth.

Dear AMS,

I am truly dismayed by the AMS’s decision to publish a piece critical of diversity statements in the December Notices. The “personal opinion” disclaimer at the start is no consolation. You have given a far-reaching platform to dangerous views that build a false equivalency between diversity and inclusion, on one hand, and on the other hand, McCarthyism. There’s no room in today’s world for a both-sides-ism approach whether it’s in math or politics or any other venue.

I believe you have made a grave and very damaging mistake by publishing this piece.

Respectfully,

Chad

Thank you to everyone who has responded to Abigail Thompson’s “A Word from…” in the Dec. 2019 Notices. Since Jan. 2019, I have invited AMS leadership (both governance and staff) to write “A Word From…” on a topic of their choice. In each case, I did not censor or try to change the context. While Prof. Thompson stated that the opinions expressed were those of her as an individual, I can see how her piece could be interpreted as representing the views of our professional society. I apologize to those who understood it as such and will try to make sure that the distinction is clearer in “A Word From…” I welcome all letters to the editor to continue our community’s collective conversation about this important topic.

Thank you very much for your leadership on this matter. This has been a humbling experience for me personally and I am still processing, as I am sure you and many of the people cc’d on this message are. Here is a heads-up on what will appear in the January issue of the Notices — which was headed to the printer last week, but that we held back in order to get some communication out in response to this issue.

A note from the Editor of the Notices

The monthly “A Word from…” opinion piece in the December 2019 issue of the Notices has kindled controversy, including a great deal of attention on social media. The Notices has received a number of letters to the Editor sent by members of our community. Unfortunately, we are unable to print all of them in the Notices. We have (we have not done this yet — this work is being done now) arranged for letters to be posted online at https://www.ams.org/notices. Additionally, a representative selection of letters will appear in the April issue of the Notices. We encourage diverse viewpoints, and as always require civility and accuracy in the content that we publish.

A note from the Executive Director of the AMS

The Notices has a long history of publishing opinions that are of general interest to mathematicians, even when the opinions are controversial. I support the editorial independence of AMS publications. The AMS supports lively exchange of ideas when presented with civility. With differing norms on social media, and in light of the current nature of discourse in the United States, this ideal only becomes more challenging for us as a community.

The AMS is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I recognize that several members of our community were deeply hurt by opinions expressed in these pages. It is never my intention that our readers or contributors feel threatened or unheard, and I am sorry if some people felt that way. The AMS is committed to building a diverse community of mathematicians and we support discussion on how we might achieve this. I welcome your thoughts and hope that we can continue this important dialog.

My Break-Up, Part 2

Hi [AMS Fancy Person #1, #2, and #3],

So sorry to be playing the role, inevitably, of me. But… I just learned that the ICM 2022 is in Russia. This is a dangerous and exclusionary choice when it comes to participation of LGBTQ+ mathematicians, for whom travel to Russia is very unsafe. Russia is well-known to be one of the worst human rights abusers when it comes to this group. In any case, I am wondering if AMS will please speak up about this.

Chad

Dear Chad,

Thank you for bringing this forward. As you know, I always appreciate it when you and other AMS members bring forward concerns of any sort. At least this time around, we’re a few steps ahead of you.

Members of Spectra contacted the executive directors of the four JPBM societies on this issue last year. We communicated our concerns to the organizing committee of the ICM 2022, both in person and in writing. [AMS Fancy Person #2] committed the AMS to provide trained staff and mathematicians attending ICM 2022 who can address any issues that are perceived as possible violations of our Welcoming Environment Policy. The organizing committee of the ICM 2022 welcomes this.

To prepare, the AMS will offer a free online training session for staff and volunteers in 2021. We’ll also deploy this service permanently into our AMS sectional meetings and the reimagined JMM, starting in 2022. For years, we have one trained ombudsperson at each of our conferences, but going forward, we’ll have several people trained up and ready to help. This will be widely communicated to conference attendees.

I’ve already identified the trainer and have reviewed their materials. This trainer was recommended by the American Geophysical Union and the training served as the basis for their Safe AGU program. Any extra capacity available for this training has already been offered to staff at the MAA, SIAM, and the ASA. So, the entire JPBM group of professional math societies is taking this seriously.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. Always glad to hear from you!

Best,
[AMS Fancy Person #1]

Hi all,

Thanks for this, and I should say, BTW, that I know I am late to the game on this one.

I am sure I know where you all stand, personally, on this issue, and also, I appreciate that you are doing something, as described by [AMS Fancy Person #1]. But that said, maybe I can ask you to try a thought experiment. According to many metrics, Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world in terms of violence against women. While it would be an unlikely scenario, let’s suppose that the ICM were taking place in Afghanistan and women were told that staff would be trained on “harassment, bullying, discrimination, retaliation or other misconduct” and that an ombudsperson would be available. Would you feel your professional society was acting in a manner that indicated that it understood the dangers to you? Would you feel safe going? Would you feel the society was acting to look after your interests? I can only tell you how it feels to me, but as so often happens, LGBTQ+ people are thrown under the bus. Our physical safety is deemed an acceptable risk in pursuit of other goals.

-Chad

Chad,

I think [AMS Fancy Person #1’s] reply to your email was very comprehensive but I will add one more point. There are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and of Spectra, who do not share your point of view. I spoke to several people when this issue arose who did not feel that it was unsafe for them to go to St. Petersburg and who also felt that it was very important to support the Russian mathematical community with this ICM.

Best,
[AMS Fancy Person #2]

Hi [AMS Fancy Person #2],

Thanks for the response. Let me offer a response to your response. First, I’d recommend checking the Canadian Department of State, since our own U.S. government is quite homophobic in its affect and its policies. See:

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/russia

You’ll note that Canada advises:

“Discrimination against LGBTQ2 individuals is common. LGBTQ2 travellers, as well as their friends and families, have been targets of harassment and violence, particularly outside of Moscow.”

Also:

“Russian federal law prohibits public actions that are described as promoting homosexuality and “non-traditional sexual relations.” Public actions that contravene or appear to contravene this law may lead to arrest, a fine and deportation. Examples of such actions include dissemination of information (for example, through public statements) and public displays of affection. Same sex marriage is not recognized in Russia. Homosexuality isn’t socially accepted.”

I myself would trust the expertise of the Canadian government more than the feelings of any individual mathematicians.

Additionally, I would like to respectfully ask that we take a moment to think about structural oppression. The relevant question to ask is “does policy X result in an inequitable outcome for group Y?” Whether or not people in group Y support policy X is irrelevant. See, for example, Kendi’s writings. In short, the fact that some LGBTQ+ people thought it is important to support the Russian mathematical community does nothing to mitigate the disparate impact of the venue choice on the LGBTQ+ community.

I would welcome more dialog on this. Again, I know (or assume) that you are sympathetic, but the AMS as an organization has a very long way to go on these issues.

Sincerely,
Chad

Break-Up and Rebound

Unfortunately, the UAE perpetrates human rights offenses against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. There are no anti-discrimination laws, no recognition of the family structure of same sex couples… and worse things, including gay foreigners sometimes being jailed during travels there. As an out gay man who is married and has a child, traveling to this location would be unsafe for me and would endanger my ability to reunite with my family.

The Council of the American Mathematical Society wishes to reaffirm the commitment of the Society to the human rights of mathematicians. The Society bears a particular responsibility to provide the participants at meetings of the Society with an environment which is supportive of these rights.

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Chad M. Topaz

Chad M. Topaz

Professor, data scientist, applied mathematician, social justice researcher and activist, nonprofit leader. See www.chadtopaz.com and www.qsideinstitute.org.