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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

For a Black Mathematician, What It’s Like to Be the ‘Only One’ | Science - The New York Times

Amy Harmon, national correspondent for The New York Times, covering the intersection of science and society reports, Fewer than 1 percent of doctorates in math are awarded to African-Americans. Edray Goins, who earned one of them, found the upper reaches of the math world a challenging place.

At the Baltimore conference, Dr. Goins delivered a keynote address titled “A Dream Deferred: 50 Years of Blacks in Mathematics.”
Photo: Jared Soares for The New York Times

It was not an overt incident of racism that prompted Edray Goins, an African-American mathematician in the prime of his career, to abandon his tenured position on the faculty of a major research university last year.

The hostilities he perceived were subtle, the signs of disrespect unspoken.

There was the time he was brushed aside by the leaders of his field when he approached with a math question at a conference. There were the reports from students in his department at Purdue University that a white professor had warned them not to work with him.

One of only perhaps a dozen black mathematicians among nearly 2,000 tenured faculty members in the nation’s top 50 math departments, Dr. Goins frequently asked himself whether he was right to factor race into the challenges he faced.

That question from a senior colleague on his area of expertise, directed to someone else?...

“Who do they make eye contact with?”
In an essay that has been widely shared over the last year, Dr. Goins sought to explain himself. He extolled the virtues of teaching undergraduates and vowed to continue his research. But he also gave voice to a lament about the loneliness of being black in a profession marked by extraordinary racial imbalance.

“I am an African-American male,” Dr. Goins wrote in a blog published by the American 

Mathematical Society. “I have been the only one in most of the universities I’ve been to — the only student or faculty in the mathematics department.”

“To say that I feel isolated,” he continued, “is an understatement.”
Experiences similar to Dr. Goins’s are reflected in recent studies by academic institutions on attrition among underrepresented minorities and women across many disciplines.