AMS Action Plan after #ShutDownSTEM

On June 10, 2020, the American Mathematical Society paused our daily work in support of the Black community under the #ShutDownSTEM banner. We are resolutely committed to working to ensure equity for Black mathematicians. We recognize this will require fundamental change. The AMS is developing a plan to reckon with our own history of racist behavior and to address systemic inequities that exist in our mathematics community. This page describes our developing Action Plan.

— Catherine A. Roberts, Executive Director

 

AMS Message of Support for and Solidarity with the Black Community

Adopted by the Council on June 12, 2020 so as to speak in the name of the American Mathematical Society.

In the context of the ongoing murders of Black people, the American Mathematical Society expresses its shame and grief. We condemn these most recent installments in a recurring American story. In expressing our sadness, we recognize that the commitment of the AMS to be an inclusive community and to speak out against injustice has not always been matched by corresponding actions.

The AMS is an organization with shameful episodes in its long history, some of which are well-documented. We apologize for these mistakes, while realizing that this apology is not complete without a clear recognition of the depth and breadth of our mistakes.

We establish today a task force to understand this facet of the history of the AMS. Acknowledging our mistakes is not enough: we must also work to remedy them. The task force is also charged with listening to and seeking input from the mathematics community, specifically from Black mathematicians. These conversations will form the basis for actions that the AMS can undertake to rectify the systemic inequities in the mathematics community. The full charge of the committee can be found here, including a way for you to contribute your thoughts.

At the same time we cannot just stand by and wait for change. The AMS is creating a fund to support and promote the work of Black mathematicians. One goal of the fund is the establishment of a fellowship to support the scholarship of Black mathematicians. This will be part of a broader effort to enact programs recommended by the task force. The AMS and all AMS Trustees have already made pledges to kick off the fund.

Task Force: Understanding and Documenting the Historical Role of the AMS in Racial Discrimination

Goals: (1) to help the mathematical community understand the historical role of the AMS in racial discrimination; (2) to consider and recommend actions addressing the impact of discrimination and inequities to the AMS Council and Board of Trustees.

To support these goals, the Task Force will gather information and resources; produce a report, and any other learning resources, for wide dissemination; and advise the Council on how to accept responsibility for the actions of the Society.

The chairs of the task force are Kasso Okoudjou and Francis Su. The task force invites feedback from the community. Please use the form below to send comments and feel free to contact the chairs of the task force or any members of the AMS leadership. The chairs plan to release a preliminary report in time for the Joint Mathematics Meetings in January 2021.

The 2020 Fund

This new fund will support and promote the work of Black mathematicians. One goal of this fund is to establish a new fellowship to support the scholarship of Black mathematicians.

Contribute to the 2020 Fund

We invite feedback from the community

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Appendix

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This list will continue to be developed as the Task Force conducts its work. If you have input or resources you think we should consider, please submit them via the above form. We thank Jesse Kass for beginning this list for us [Kas20b]. We have added references.

  • At the 1936 AMS meeting at Duke University, William Claytor was barred from the (whites-only) hotel reserved for conference participants and had to stay at the private residence of an African American family. [Lor96] [Par 16, p. 227]
  • In 1947, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. was invited by the AMS Associate Secretary to attend an AMS meeting held at the University of Georgia, but arrangements had been made for food and lodging to be provided by an African American family rather than the hotels and restaurants that were provided for white mathematicians. Ultimately he did not participate in the meeting: "In 1947 [J. Ernest] Wilkins was a few years past the Ph. D. he had earned at the University of Chicago slightly before his nineteenth birthday. He received a letter from the AMS Associate Secretary for that region urging him to come and saying that very satisfactory arrangements had been made with which they were sure he'd be pleased: they had found a ""nice colored family" with whom he could stay and where he would take his meals! The hospitality of the University of Georgia (and of the AMS) was not for him. This is why the meeting there was totally white." [Lor96]
  • While a professor at Howard University, David Blackwell traveled to an AMS meeting in Virginia, but upon arriving found that he was not allowed to stay at the dormitory that had been reserved for participants. He then left the meeting. [Lor96]
  • In 1951, mathematicians at Fisk University requested that the AMS insert into its bylaws "explicit and effective protection of the rights of all members to participate fully freely and equally" in its affairs without regard to race. The AMS did not modify its bylaws, although it did pass a non-discriminatory motion which seems to have had limited impact. The full text of the request can be found in [Lor51].
  • Some organizers of AMS meetings offered separate hotel accommodations to African American participants. For example, this occurred at the 551st meeting at Duke University in 1958.
  • Some AMS meetings were held at segregated universities and colleges. For example, a sectional meeting in 1954 was held at the University of Alabama.
  • In 1951, the AMS sold its library to the University of Georgia. At the time, African Americans were not allowed to use the university library. (The University of Georgia was segregated until 1961). [Lor96]

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