By Joe Jarvis
If a train leaves New York going west at 60 mph, and a train leaves Chicago going east at 70 mph, how many microaggressions will the conductors commit before the trains collide?
Think this question can’t be answered by physics? Think again! According to Pomona College, racial bias and microaggressions are a necessary subject for physics coursework.
“Foundations of Modern Physics” is a mandatory class for all physics and astronomy students at Pomona College. And one of their first assignments last fall was a project called “Decolonizing Physics.”
The Pomona College course catalog describes the class as an “introduction to wave mechanics, spectra and structure of atoms, molecules and solids, nuclear physics and particle physics.”
According to an email obtained by the Independent sent from a student asking for assistance on the project, students in Foundations of Modern Physics must “learn and discuss implicit bias, microaggressions and other similar topics.” The email revealed that students are expected to “bring to light some of these issues to both the physics department and Pomona in general,” and cited a student movement at Harvard University, which highlighted microaggressions against students of color, as an example of the work expected from the students enrolled in the physics class.
It is not clear what aspects of wave mechanics, atomic structures, molecules and solids, nuclear physics, or particle physics deals with interpersonal implicit bias, a topic typically reserved for the social sciences and humanities.
The email stated that the student attempted her own rendition of the “#ITooAmHarvard” project—a student-developed movement at Harvard University to highlight microaggressions against students of color—with the catchphrase “#ITooAmSTEM.” The student called for the stories of female students or students of color to discuss STEM-related social justice topics for women and persons of color.
Apparently, colleges are not content propagandizing only their liberal arts departments.
“The main goal of this course [Math 058] is to enhance your analytical and statistical skills while exploring topics in social justice.”
A component of the class also includes mandatory journals submitted every week that “should contain reflections on both the statistical and social justice topics covered.”
Students at Pomona seemed to disagree with the course’s objectives. One mathematics student told the Independent, under the condition of anonymity, that “[if] you are studying math influenced by any ideology… it’s not math. The beauty of math is that it is objective – it holds true regardless of culture, politics and so on. If you’re teaching social justice in a math class, you’re not teaching math.”
My grandfather used to say (perhaps quoting Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain) that there are three types of untruths: lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Apparently, the intelligentsia wants to prove this true. But they want to make sure the right lies are being told.
A statistics course could hit on these topics inadvertently, by talking about choosing the right type of sample for surveys and avoiding statistical errors based on bias. But it sounds more like they will teach how to work your bias right into your statistical analysis.
Unfortunately, the professors teaching the courses never responded to multiple attempts by the Independent for an explanation of what exactly the social justice component of the classwork will entail.
So please tell us in the comments your own interpretation. Are microaggressions, racial, and gender bias appropriate topics for physics and statistics classes?