Kaitlin Tademy, graduate student in mathematics, received a Promising Leader Award at the second annual Nebraska Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact Awards on April 13.
The award recognizes Tademy for her efforts to actively advance diversity, equity and inclusion in transformative and sustainable ways at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Tademy was nominated by Allan Donsig, professor of mathematics and vice department chair, and Michelle Homp, associate professor of practice in mathematics. Tademy also received the College of Arts and Sciences Inclusive Excellence and Diversity Award for the 2021-22 academic year.
“Her dedication to improving the experiences of students from all walks of life will have a lasting impact on mathematics classrooms at UNL,” said Homp, who’s been affiliated with the university since the 1990s. “During all these years, I believe that Kaitlin has done more to promote inclusive excellence in the Department of Mathematics than any other graduate student in our program.”
What’s the greatest way you’ve advanced diversity, equity and inclusion in the mathematics department?
Perhaps the greatest way I’ve advanced DEI in the math department is what I believe is my most tangible contribution. At the end of the fall 2020 semester, Michelle Homp asked me to join her on a project to study the experiences of students of color in our undergraduate math courses. After noticing proficiency gaps between students of color and white students in these courses, especially MATH203 and MATH100A, faculty members wanted to know more about the experiences of students of color and first-generation students in these courses. We wanted to conduct focus group interviews, respond by making changes to curriculum and instruction, and extend this project to other first-year math courses.
After seeking advice from Charlie Foster, director of OASIS; Kerra Russell, senior associate director of OASIS; and Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education, I took a lead role in recruiting students and developing questions for focus group interviews that captured many aspects of student experiences, including classroom environment, course content, interactions and relationships with peers and instructors, personal history with math and sources of academic and emotional support. With the help of Sally Ahrens, a junior faculty member of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education at the time, I conducted the focus group interviews, coded and analyzed the data and summarized the results in a report, giving 10 recommendations to instructors for making a math class more inclusive.
For the 2021-2022 academic year, I’ve had the opportunity to see many of the curriculum and instruction changes through by serving as associate convener of MATH203, where I organize weekly instructor meetings and provide guidance to graduate student instructors in content delivery, exam writing, grading, and creating and taking opportunities to make our classes more inclusive.
Though I believe what we do day-to-day has a huge, cumulative impact on advancing DEI in the department and our society as a whole, I believe this has been my most tangible impact on the department because of how many people in the department it has reached, including professors, graduate students and undergraduate students.
How did you develop your passion for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion?
I guess this has always been a passion of mine, but I did not always have the sense of efficacy about it that I do now. In my position as a graduate teaching assistant in the math department and as a young member of the math community, I have a voice that I did not always believe I had. As a black woman in mathematics and the first in my family to pursue graduate education, I’ve learned quite a bit about what it means to show up for myself and advocate for myself. And I think that in the process of learning how to do this for myself, I learned that I could do it for others. I feel empowered to empower others.
How do you create an inclusive atmosphere in the classroom?
How we create an inclusive atmosphere in our classrooms depends on quite a bit: the number of students in the course, the physical setup of the classroom, the personality of the instructor, the topic of the course, so many things. I don’t think there is a precise answer to this question without considering all of these variables. But what I do think characterizes a lot of what I personally do to create and maintain an inclusive atmosphere in my classroom is that I always want to make space and make connections. To me, this means making space for students to be their authentic selves; making space for students to be human; making space for students to have power in the classroom; making connections with students; providing opportunities for students to connect with each other; and connecting course content to our day-to-day lives. And this mean doing all these things continuously, not just once at the beginning of the semester, and not every once in a while. It is also important to remember that we are not creating an inclusive atmosphere for our students, but we are creating it with them.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I hope to keep using the voice that I now know that I have to empower people in the math community. This means people in the math community, as well as people the math community serves. Math is a much more human field than we have been taught our whole lives. It is unfortunate that there is currently only a tiny population of people who get to see the artistry, fluidity and joy that mathematics and mathematicians bring to the world. I hope to radically change the culture of mathematics by challenging perceptions of what math is, what it means to be good at math and who is allowed to participate.
What is your advice to other students, staff or faculty looking to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on campus?
My advice to students, faculty and staff is to examine your power. I believe that the purpose of power is to empower — to empower the people around us and to empower ourselves. Knowing where and how you have power means knowing where and how you can empower.