This fall students at Kettering University will be able to take part in a new elective course that blends math and communications, using the skill set to address climate change, human trafficking, voting rights, and racial justice. The course, called Math for Social Justice, will form discussions based on math modeling, statistics, and data, the university says in a statement.

“We will use math models to inform and then follow the discussion,” Dr. Leszek Gawarecki, Mathematics Department Chairman and Applied Mathematics Professor and one of the course’s instructors, said.

 “We will also open students’ eyes into the different areas of math that can model social justice issues.”

Modelling and data can be used to determine traffic routes, helping pinpoint which highways represent good entry points for human trafficking and require more police patrolling, for example.

The course will also include insight from guest speakers.

“We firmly believe any really effective intervention in a social and political context needs both parts of the equation,” Liberal Arts Department Chairman and Communications Professor, Dr. Babak Elahi, who will participate in the class, said.

“We want students to walk away from this feeling a sense of agency like they can do something about those issues that matter to them. Like they can take the skills they’ve learned in science, math, humanities and social science and use them effectively to make the world a better place.”

Students will need to have completed communications, calculus, and statistics to participate.

The course represents an interesting approach to tackling some of humanity’s most pressing issues during a time where there is a growing call for scientists to receive at least some arts training.

“I believe we need our educational system to engage students with issues of ethics and responsibility in science and technology,” Richard Lachman, a computer scientist who studies digital culture wrote in 2019.

“We should treat required arts and humanities courses not as some vague attempt to “broaden minds” but rather as a necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics, and responsibility.”

Supporters say that liberal arts training could inspire STEM majors to develop more nuanced ways to tackle social justice issues while improving science communication outreach.

 “Scientists need not only to explain much more clearly and compellingly what we are doing but also to establish on social, cultural and emotional levels why our work is important. We need to respect cultural differences that lead to misunderstanding and even fear of science,” Cornell University president David J. Skorton wrote in 2014.

“…The public’s lack of scientific understanding limits the effectiveness of our work as well as our ability to garner the financial and political support we need to carry it out. As a result, our ability to generate knowledge and solve problems is suffering.”