Maybe it’s Not “Men of Color”: Equity in College Mathematics, data part II

A recent post here looked at a summary of pass rates based on “Pell eligibility” and race, where Pell eligibility is used as an indicator of possible poverty.  Take a look at .  The basic message was that the outcomes for black students was significantly lower and that part of this difference seems related to the impact of poverty.

Today, I wanted to follow that up with some similar data on the role of gender (technically, ‘sex’) in the outcomes of students, accounting for poverty and race.  This seems especially important given the national attention to “men of color” (  As a social justice issue, I agree that this focus on MEN of color is important given the unequal incarceration rates.

However, this is what I see in our data for all Pell eligible students in math courses:









As for the prior chart, this reflects data over a 6 year period … which means that the ‘n’ values for each group are large (up to 10000 for ‘white’).  Given those sample sizes, almost any difference in proportions is statistically significant.  All three comparisons ‘point’ in the same direction — females have higher outcomes than males, within each racial group.

However, notice that the ‘WOMEN” of color have lower outcomes than men “without color”  (aka ‘white’). A focus on men of color, within mathematics education, is not justified by this data.  Here is what I see …

  • There is a ‘race thing’ … unequal outcomes for blacks and hispanics, compared to white students.
    [This pattern survives any disaggragation by other factors, such as different courses and indicators of preparation.]
  • There is a ‘sex thing’ … unequal outcomes for men, compared to women.
    [This difference is smaller, and does NOT survive some disaggregations.]

There is a large difference in ‘effect size’ for these; the black ‘gap’ in outcomes approaches 20 percentage points (about  2/3 of the white pass rate), while the ‘male’ gap is 5 percentage points or less (90% to 96% of the female pass rate).  In other words, it does not help to be a woman of color; it just hurts less than being a man of color.

I think that pattern fits the social context in the United States.  The trappings of discrimination have been fashioned in to something that looks less disturbing, without addressing the underlying problems.  We have actually retreated in this work, from the period of 40 to 50 years ago; there was a time when college financial aid was deliberately constructed as a tool in this work, and this was effective from the information I have seen.  Current college policies combined with the non-supportive financial aid system results in equity gaps for PEOPLE of color.

Most of us have a small role in this work, but this does not mean the role is unimportant.  If your department and institution are critiquing your impact on people of color, terrific; I hope we have an opportunity to share ideas on solutions.  If your department or institution are not deeply involved in this work, why not?  We have both the professional and moral responsibility to consider the differential impact of our work, including unintended consequences.

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