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Nicole M. Joseph
What Plato Took for Granted: An Examination of the First Five African American Female Mathematicians and What That Says About Resistance to the Western Epistemological Canon

The findings from this study problematize issues of access and participation of Black women in mathematics by examining the intersection of the experiences of the first five Black females to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics during Jim Crow and Plato’s assumptions about women. I put forth an argument that Black females’ absence from the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pipeline is indicative of whiteness and White supremacy, which is the right to exclude. The consequence of the right to exclude can be traced back to Plato’s philosophy,which ultimately created a contemporary context for gender and racial oppression. Critical Theory, Standpoint theory, and Black Feminist Thought were used as a complex theoretical framework to interpret the findings. Findings suggest that while on the one hand, their lives complement Plato’s idea of an elite few; they are also outsiders within, illuminating important issues of racial and gender oppression. Their lives also complicate Plato’s views in that they (a) found value in their segregated schooling experiences in developing their mathematics interests (b) used transformative logic in the face of racism and sexism, and (c) engaged in academy, industry, and community leadership. Lessons learned, and implications for mathematics education reform related to Black females are discussed.

Book chapter
Women of Color in STEM: Navigating the Workforce
Information Age Publishing

Nicole M. Joseph, Vanderbilt University


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