This spring semester, the general Introduction to Statistics (MATH058) course at Pomona College has a new addition to its curriculum—the exploration of social justice issues. Taught by visiting assistant professor Omayra Ortega, a Pomona alumna, the class uses “examples from social justice literature [to] help explain the statistics.”
This course is the only general introductory statistics class offered at Pomona. Other introductory classes have a specific applied focus, like Biostatistics, Economic Statistics, or Statistics for Politics and International Relations.
The new additions to the Introduction to Statistics syllabus were advertised last semester via posters placed around campus emphasizing the social justice aspect of the course.
“Concepts from statistics will be applied to current data relating to issues in social justice using statistical computer software.”
Given the limited time available in a semester, Introduction to Statistics’s emphasis on social justice contrasts with courses like Economic Statistics, or Statistics for Politics and International Relations, which focus on statistical concepts and tools. The syllabus for Statistics for Politics shows no mandatory reading on issues unrelated to statistics, with political reading only listed as “recommended reading.”
In contrast, according to the course syllabus obtained by the Independent, social justice is central to Ortega’s class: “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.”
“I’ll never take a class like that [Ortega’s statistics class],” he added.
Other mathematics students had similar reactions.
“I don’t find politics being mixed into my math class a positive thing because [the] campus is political enough as is…Additionally, the idea of social justice pushed by the liberal professors tend to center around ideas of justice based on their liberal principles,” another student told the Independent.
“This class will probably not be nonpartisan, and as a conservative leaning moderate who disagrees with many liberal ideas…I don’t think think this class will fit in with my idea of social justice, [which is] why it [the class’s curriculum] makes me uncomfortable.”
The Independent reached out to Ortega and the math department, inquiring about the details of the social justice topics discussed in her class, and why they are important to learning statistics. We have yet to receive a response.
Alec Sweet contributed reporting.