A lot of people where I come from view diversity as a political thing. Some people think that having recruiting or retention preferences don’t contribute to anything but some abstract social ideal. I’ve seen several things firsthand that counter that idea, but wanted to share one experience that specifically involves math (because its “objective”).
I went to Louisiana State for undergrad and grad school. I studied math modeling, which we had maybe one non-recurring class on. In the last year of my PhD I designed an undergraduate lab. I had my students do mathematical modeling and coding, realistically one of the few opportunities they would get at LSU. A lot of them enjoyed it, and one is even planning on going to graduate school to model and code (we are working on a related paper right now). For the final I asked them to write a differential equation to model an enzyme reaction. I got 4 solutions I’d never seen before, and my dissertation focused on modeling enzyme reactions. I wouldn’t have been able to write the equations my students wrote because I couldn’t see past my training.
To me, this perfectly illustrates the value of diversity. People who aren’t trained traditionally really do bring something different to the table. Its not just about personality, perspectives. Its not just about different political or cultural opinions. Its genuinely thinking about things in a different way, even with something “objective” like math.
Science needs different perspectives because we all HAVE a different perspective. Our cultures, upbringing, and identity lead us to approach or question concepts in different ways, to be more or less confident in challenging the status quo. Scientists may like to think of ourselves as objective and rational, but like any other group of humans, there are subcultures, unwritten rules, and proprieties.
It seems like you would get higher quality science, and more innovation, if you recruited and retained more people who are used to seeing the negative aspects of the status quo, rather than people who may be considering this for the first time.
Although in my experience, many scientists publicly espouse pro-diversity sentiments, I’m not very convinced when I look at the statistics. (I’m not the only one). The majority of fellowships go to a few people from certain schools, who’s local demographics are largely rich and white. Speaking of the status quo, why is grad school and academic hiring so toxic? Why are glamour journals and schools a thing? Sounds like there’s a lot of status quo being propped up. Must be a coincidence…
More talk than action: gender and ethnic diversity in leading public health universities. Khan, Mishal Sameer et al. The Lancet, Volume 393, Issue 10171, 594 – 600