BYU math club responds to criticism of ‘Women in Math’ poster featuring all men

Posted at 10:11 PM, Feb 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-22 13:29:16-05

PROVO, Utah - A Brigham Young University math club's poster is going viral online, because the poster shows an all-male lineup in a speaking event that's targeted toward women.

Thousands of people online have expressed concern over the poster, but the club is responding to the poster, saying it's not what it seems.

At the monthly Women in Math club meeting at BYU Wednesday evening, a room full of female math students learned about four different mathematical research topics.

The room laughed and engaged with what each of the four presenters had to say. It was clear this event was right up their alley.

"It's so fun," said BYU Mathematics senior Martha Morrise, who has been in the club for four years.

She said events like these give women as much exposure to different math fields as possible, which is valuable to inspire women to get more involved.

"I was able to learn about the different research opportunities," said BYU Mathematics senior Marci Hepner.

She said she loves the unity of women and connecting with people in the same major. But this event didn't get a great reception online— or at least not the poster promoting it.

"I was just kind of shocked at first," said BYU junior Stephanie Driggs, of seeing the promotional poster.

It contains pictures of four male speakers. Below their pictures, the poster reads, "WOMEN IN MATH," and below that, "FOR ALL WOMEN WHO LOVE MATH."

"I thought it was just a joke that someone was playing," Driggs said. "It was just, 'Women in Math' and then four white guys: It was almost comical to see."

She tweeted out a photo with the caption " this satire?" which quickly gained tens of thousands of likes, thousands of retweets and hundreds of replies.

The photo also made the rounds on various Facebook accounts.

Many people asked why a 'women in math' panel only included men. Others expressed that it was sad, sexist, and "mathsplaining," a play off of the word 'mansplaining.'

"I believe that [the Tweet] had that response because it is an issue in our society today," Driggs said, with "it" referring to subtle sexism.

Women in Math club advisor Martha Kilpack said the club saw the post online, and received messages and emails.

They took the posters down, she said, because of the offense people took.

But that's not at all what the club meant by the poster, she expressed.

"It was an honest mistake kind of poster," Kilpack said. "It wasn't meant to be a political statement. It wasn't meant to be anything other than encourage female students to come to an activity."

She said it was unfortunate that the poster was taken in a different light.

This particular event, she said, was organized by undergrad female students and they chose the speakers. She said they invite speakers to their club every year, and in the past they've often invited women.

"It's a chance to see different research that they do, and we let the students pick the presenters," Kilpack said. "This time, they happened to pick four male presenters."

Kilpack said the club's goal is to give women a forum where they feel comfortable researching and learning about mathematics. They host fun and educational activities, she said, and the event with the all-male lineup isn't representative of everything they do.

The four men chosen to speak at this event, she said, are well-known in the BYU math community and they are huge supporters of women in mathematics.

"We should take a step back and look at the whole picture," Kilpack said. "And the whole picture is, that we put on a fun event that our female undergraduates wanted to have."