Math Therapy for Adalante Students and Black Collegians

Students within the Adalante and Black Collegians communities actively participate in the Math Therapy program in the Letters and Sciences Building (LSS), Room 105 on Oct. 3, 2019.  (Eline Millenaar / The Corsair)

Students within the Adalante and Black Collegians communities actively participate in the Math Therapy program in the Letters and Sciences Building (LSS), Room 105 on Oct. 3, 2019. (Eline Millenaar / The Corsair)

Sweaty palms, increased heart beat, paralysis of thought - all at the sight of a mathematical problem. These symptoms of math anxiety are familiar to many college students. 

Math Therapy is a combined effort of the Adalante and Black Collegians communities to specifically help African American and Latino students at Santa Monica College (SMC). Math faculty, tutors and counselors meet with students every Thursday in the Letters and Sciences Building (LSS), Room 105 to eliminate math barriers, provide free math resources, and help prepare for math assessments and exams.

The Math Therapy program is led by Dr. Tyffany Dowd, Dr. Kristin Ross, and Math Instructional Assistant Edwin Cruz. Every meeting starts with a mindfulness exercise, followed by a math strategy. They then break out into study groups of students and tutors. The program also offers supplies like books and practice exams, as well as lunch.

The need for Math Therapy is supported by a study titled ‘Decreasing Math Anxiety in College Students,’ which mentions that approximately 85% of the students that participated in a small-scale survey claimed to feel “at least mild math anxiety." According to the study ‘Spotlight on Math Anxiety’ published in the journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management in 2018, math anxiety and math performance influence each other. Math anxiety increases when math grades plummet, and the academic performance in math courses decrease when students experience math anxiety.

Philosophy major Tyler Jackson-Zeno started attending Math Therapy recently. The mindfulness exercises make this different than his other math class, and he also likes that he can learn from his peers.

"I just wanted to pass the exam, but my first experience here was like, 'Oh this is not just tutoring!'" said Jackson-Zeno.

Both Cruz and Dr. Dowd refer to research that shows that math performance is historically and systematically lower among black and brown students. Ross believes this is due to a lack of relatability; black students rarely see themselves reflected in the content. She says that communication is also an issue. Students told her that the learning techniques, words used, and even the accents of their math instructors were so different than theirs that made it more difficult to understand.

Math professor and Math Therapy counselor Dr. Kristin Ross was the first black woman to join SMC's math department. At the Black Collegians Community (BCC) welcome event in September, Ross spoke of the importance of mental confidence, as well as the importance of good math grades. According to Ross, universities often look at a student’s math grades as a gatekeeper to “get the cream of the crop.”

“I’m tired of hearing that black people don’t do math,” said Dr. Ross during the BCC Welcome event. “At some point in time you had a very bad experience with math, for those of you that hate math...and then some of your parents reflected that into you, too.”

Math Therapy’s approach has been successful, according to Cruz. He noticed that a lot of the students that come on Thursdays continue to come to future meetings. Math Therapy is currently only available to students that are part of the Adalante or Black Collegians community, although the Math Department has expressed interest in expanding the program.

“There’s been talk about trying to make this more scalable for the campus,” said Dowd. “We’re still trying to figure how to do that, but with the same notion that we want to keep this for Black Collegians and Adalante students." 

Besides attending Math Therapy on Thursdays from 11:15 a.m. - 12.35 p.m. at LS 105, Black Collegians and Adalante students can also meet with Cruz on a drop-in basis. He can be found on the second floor of the Student Services Center from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“Feel free to come in any time," said Cruz. “My goal is here to get A in that math class.”