Holly explores experiences of Black mathematics educators to promote equity in mathematics education

James Holly, Jr., Ph.D.

James Holly, Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of urban science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, advocates for equity in mathematics education by leading “Reframing What Counts: Using the Stories of Black Mathematicians to Inform Equitable Math Education.” Through this investigation that examines the personal stories of Black male and female educators at a university in a predominantly Black city, he hopes to combat negative perceptions about Black students’ mathematical abilities and achievement, uplift the experiences of marginalized people, and provide recommendations for addressing anti-Blackness in mathematics instruction.  

“Black people have been heavily studied and overwhelmingly from a deficit perspective, it’s time we tell our own stories because we know best the barriers and aids to our success,” said Holly. “Studying our personal experiences can often help shed light on racism and other important issues that others do not fully understand, and the goal is not just awareness but shifting educational practice.” 

The collaborative self-study investigates the ways in which being Black offer a unique perspective into the shortcomings of mathematics pedagogy and practice as equitable. It also privileges the perspectives of Black mathematics educators as the people most equipped to advise the field on how to be inclusive of Black people’s intelligence and self-expressions (i.e., Blackness). This project will illustrate the cultural and experiential knowledge these Black scholars use in their instructional methods, offer an interactional critical examination of mathematics education, and present recommendations for how to humanize the pursuit and practice of mathematics education.  

Participating mathematics educators — higher education faculty members and researchers who desire to transform mathematics education by making it more equitable for Black students — were empowered to author their own personal narratives, which is instructive for other STEM scholars interested in improving higher education experiences for Black people. Other research collaborators include Tiana Bosley, Ph.D., coordinator of the Mathematics Resource Center in the Department of Mathematics, and Darryl Gardner, Ph.D., director of student success operational excellence in the Office of the Provost. 

“These scholars work in administration, teach, and serve the university and Detroit community,” Holly. “This study is not just about being Black — the focus is how their racial identity improves their ability to help Black students be successful. These insights will assist non-Black educators in using culturally relevant approaches to teaching mathematics, which will result in better experiences and outcomes for Black students.” 

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