Last Tuesday, a viral photo left Twitter outraged. Shared by Stephanie Driggs in Utah, who has since deleted the tweet, the photo showed Utah's Brigham Young University math panel featuring men only. Sure, these kinds of panels may often be skewed to male members — but in this case, it was even more notable: The panel was supposedly targeting "all women who love math."
The panel was organized by the student-led "Women in Math" club at BYU, although Driggs, who shared an image of the flyer for the event, asked, "Is this satire?" The on-campus event was set for Feb. 21, according to the flyer, and encouraged students to attend in order to learn about "research done in data science" among other subjects.
A screenshot shared by The Huffington Post shows the flyer Driggs tweeted where four beaming men can be seen right above the bold font declaring, "Women in Math" followed by a small sub-heading, "For all women who love math."
Thousands of people shared the image, with some openly sharing their distaste with the poster. One Twitter user, BYU student Talia Ruth, shared a screenshot of her email to the club: "It was a shock to see a poster advertising a conference of sorts regarding women in math showing only male faculty. Women should be represented by women. Please note this error reflects poorly on this department and consider how this impact the department and university in the future."
Not long after the tweet went viral, BYU's math club issued a statement on Facebook that essentially said: The poster wasn't meant to be comical neither discouraging to women, but was simply an honest mistake made with "good intentions." The club's statement read:
Many of you have probably seen a poster circulating around the Internet from our Women in Math Organization! The poster featured the pictures of four of our department faculty. It was done with good intentions. It was not meant to demean women or be satirical. We value women in mathematics and their contributions, and work to promote opportunities for women to succeed in mathematics.
By Wednesday evening, the poster had been removed from the BYU campus, according to Martha Kilpack, who is the club advisor for BYU's Women in Math society. Klipack told Fox 13, "It was an honest mistake kind of poster. 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 explained to Fox 13 that the event was "a chance to see different research" and that the decision to appoint the four male faculty members was made by the students themselves.
Klipack also told the channel that each member chosen is supportive of women in math. "We should take a step back and look at the whole picture. And the whole picture is, that we put on a fun event that our female undergraduates wanted to have."
The unease and frustration about BYU's all-male math panel is somewhat understandable (and it isn't the first time an all-male panel has been chosen to talk about a women-targeted subject). After all, female representation in hard science fields — think math, computer science, and engineering — is bleak, to say the least. Women occupy only 15 percent of tenure-track roles in math, according to the American Mathematical Society.
Such remarkable gender disparity isn't confined to the four walls of a classroom — it also permeates conferences, talks, and yes, panels. Ultimately, it contributes to a male-dominated field that continues to discourage women from entering the field of mathematics.