A poster advertising an event for Brigham Young University’s Women in Math club has sparked mocking irritation online for its seemingly inconsistent visual featuring four men.
As of Thursday morning, one tweet that asked “...is this satire?“ had received more than 16,000 retweets online. Others criticized the Provo school, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for failing to include at least one woman on the panel.
Shortly after the post began circulating on social media, the math department released a statement on Facebook apologizing for the posters.
“It was done with good intentions but with poor judgment and was not meant to be satire, though we did all get a good laugh here at the department,” the statement reads. “The posters have been replaced with a more appropriate message.”
A university spokeswoman denied a request for further comment, though she reiterated that a student had created the poster.
Bryn Balls-Barker, a math student at BYU, said in a comment on that Facebook post that she had made the poster. She noted she feels “very supported” by male and female professors alike and chose the speakers as a way to help women in the club network with other faculty members.
“Please do not criticize the BYU math department,” she said in response to the negative social media comments. “This club (run by two female math professors) has helped me in huge ways to network with female professors and classmates, the hope is that it will do the same for future students too.”
Balls-Barker did not respond to a request for comment.
The Women in Math club meets monthly, and this event was advertised as an opportunity for members to learn about research in data science, topology, number theory and dynamical systems.
“The club is for women in mathematics and all those who support women in mathematics and giving women, such as our students, a place to feel comfortable in exploring mathematics,” said Martha Kilpack, the club’s adviser. “Our students chose the faculty members to speak, and they felt comfortable in choosing any one of the faculty members — and they happened to choose four males.”
Two of BYU’s 37 permanent faculty members and two of its six adjunct professors appear to be women, based on a listing of faculty photos on the university’s website. That’s likely in part because mathematics is a field in which there’s a smaller group of qualified female candidates, due to a number of social and cultural factors, according to an article in The Atlantic.
But BYU has the lowest number of women on its faculty among several Utah schools, based on similar listings of names and photos of math faculty on their websites.
Utah Valley University has the most women on its math faculty, comprising at least 35 percent. Women make up at least 29 percent of the math faculty at Weber State University, 25 percent at Southern Utah University, 23 percent at Utah State University, 18 percent at the U. and just 5 percent at BYU. Some university websites lacked complete data or photos of faculty members.
Suzannah Stephenson, a sophomore applied math major, said in an interview that she would like to see more women on the school’s faculty — and one day hopes to be one of them. But because there are currently so few, she said, that means the club has to look for other ways to promote change.
“[The poster] is more just a reflection of problems in the system; I think it’s more a reflection of the fact that there are only enough female math professors to sponsor the club and there aren’t enough to sponsor and be guest speakers,” she said. “In response to the negative feedback, it’s like don’t hate on us — hate on the system. The point of this club is to fix that.”
Stephenson also noted she has felt nothing but support from her professors.