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‘Human beings are mathematical beings,’ guest speaker tells Westminster students

Many students aren’t given the tools they need to learn math. This results in a fear, or even resentment, of mathematics, ultimately harming students in the long run. 

That was the message from Geillan Aly, a guest speaker who empathized with students on their struggles and frustrations with math.

“Human beings are mathematical beings. We developed mathematics to meet our needs as humans,” Aly said. “There is no reason why I would be less capable to prove something, or solve something or develop something mathematical. It’s just a matter of if I’m given the tools by society.”

Westminster University hosted Aly for a mathematics workshop on Sept. 19. The workshop, titled “A New Day: Working Through Mathematical Traumas,” encouraged students to reflect on their mathematics experiences and learn new strategies to approach math, according to the Westminster campus calendar webpage.

Geillan Aly speaks to the students in attendance at the “A New Day: Working Through Mathematical Traumas” workshop in Dolores Doré Eccles Health, Wellness and Athletic Center’s Special Events Room on Sept. 19. Aly said the difficulty students face with mathematics goes beyond their learning ability. Photo courtesy of Kayla Dixon. Image description: The backs of students’ heads indicate two students listening to Geillan Aly as she presents in the background.

Around 25 students gathered in the Dolores Doré Eccles Health, Wellness and Athletic Center’s Special Events Room, where Aly walked them through various thought exercises to encourage students to think back on previous experiences learning mathematics. Students sat at tables in groups where they shared personal experiences with math classes..

Aly, who said people told her she wasn’t smart enough for mathematics, shared her past experiences with students at the workshop. Aly made a point to not just focus on tools students can use to improve in math classes, but also share reasons why they might not have succeeded previously. 

“There are very specific forces in society that decide who is or who is not welcome to study mathematics,” said Aly, who spoke to students about social and emotional factors that impact one’s success in math classes. “I think it’s a way of gatekeeping, consciously and unconsciously.”

Students sit around a table and share their math experiences at the “A New Day: Working Through Mathematical Traumas” workshop in Dolores Doré Eccles Health, Wellness and Athletic Center’s Special Events Room on Sept. 19. Mathematics is necessary in all aspects of life, according to guest speaker Geillan Aly. Image description: Four students sit at a round table listening to each other as they share stories about their math experiences.

Aly said the difficulty students face with mathematics goes beyond their learning ability. Factors such as the history of curriculum, inequitable school funding and the respect that math educators receive, directly impact students’ education, according to Aly.

“Mathematics becomes not just a gatekeeper for somebody who wants to study and learn math. Now mathematics is a gatekeeper as to whether or not I get healthcare, whether or not I make minimum wage,” Aly said, while emphasizing the importance of mathematics in and out of school. 

Mathematics is necessary in all aspects of life, according to Aly. The challenges students face with math can follow them throughout their lives, yet Aly said she encourages students to shift their mindset and recognize they are not alone in their struggles so they, too, can succeed in math.

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Kayla Dixon is a communication major who's passionate about highlighting unique stories and people through her writing. She's an avid equestrian with a love for all animals, big and small. In her free time she spends time at the farm with her horse.

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