UM Math Textbooks to Have Trigger Warning Labels

After repeated student protests and online petitions, the University of Michigan is to issue beginning in the 2015 Winter Term, trigger warnings on any mathematic textbooks that include mentions of Euclidean geometry, due to the math’s historic exclusion of non-straight lines.

One student protest group, the Students Triggered by Euclidean Math (STEM), wrote on their Facebook page, “For too long, Euclidean geometry was the condescending symbol of patriarchal axioms of only straight lines. Clearly this exclusion of non-straight lines for nearly thousands of years perpetuated a heteronormative cis-gender social order, in conjunction with class exploitation and sex, gender, and race manipulation by dead white Greek-centric males.” It seems the message of STEM was heard.

STEM mentioned on their online petition that “Students at the University of Michigan should not have to feel continually threatened by the privileged heterosexual orientation embodied in mathematical textbooks without warning of what social violence they might read.” The leading student activist, Carl Guass, writes in a public letter, “Euclidean geometry is exclusive to many other historically marginalized forms of math: feminist geometry, queer theory field equations, applied algebraic oppression studies, not to mention the injustice of the exclusion of non-straight lines and those who draw them. We cannot allow this social injustice to be institutionally perpetuated in math departments anymore. Ann Arbor should be a diverse environment, and students should not have to feel threatened by lines drawn (figuratively and literally) by dead white men of an ignorant age. It is time for Euclid to check his privilege.” In an online interview, Mr. Guass explains,

“The great Belgian Feminist Luce Irigaray argued that Albert Einstein’s mass/energy equivalence equation (E=mc2) is sexist since “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us,” not to mention that mass and energy are masculine concepts. Physics thus, in its linguistic categories of the world, upholds patriarchal models at the expense of socially neglected models. It goes for the rest of science and math. The rise of Non-Euclidean geometry only foreshadowed Cultural Marxism’s inevitable historic struggle with false consciousness in all its forms. The administration at the University of Michigan has taken this postmodern social justice critique of science and has extended it to other so-called “scientific” and “objective” areas, specifically in mathematics. Now we can expect greater inclusivity in campus textbooks.”

The UM Provost’s office released this public statement: The President of the University of Michigan, in coordination with the Mathematics Department and the school’s diversity counselors, announce that when academic sessions re-open after the winter break in 2015, all math textbooks that include Euclidean geometry, will have trigger warning labels on their covers. Students sometimes feel uncomfortable with the presentation of lines from an era bigoted against women, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ individuals. The University of Michigan is home to students of all varieties. No one should be excluded based on their orientation—all students who prefer straight lines and those who prefer non-straight lines are welcome.

It has not yet been decided what the specific trigger warning label will be. One possible label, leaked online, reads: “This textbook is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Professors might wish to discuss with their students how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this geometry was written before telling them to read this textbook.”

One critical math professor, desiring to remain anonymous, mentioned to the Review that a similar label has been published on a recent edition of 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Three Critiques. The professor responded in an interview, “If this kind of thing were in a newspaper, I would not believe it. It just goes to show you no line can be drawn when it comes to trigger warning labels.”

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