Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, (Belonging), known as DEI(B), has become increasingly valued in higher education in the United States. UC Berkeley provides a rubric for evaluating candidates' DEI(B) statements, and one category the applicant must address is to describe plans for advancing DEI. I want to inquire into the acceptable boundaries of such plans.

I have struggled with understanding how to implement DEI in the mathematics classroom. It occurred to me, perhaps the best way to promote DEI in the mathematics classroom is by assigning bonus points to students from underrepresented groups, say +10% on the final exam.

My question is, is this kind of thing good, recommended, acceptable, etc? If not, please explain from the DEI perspective what kinds of DEI plans are good and when these principles may be taken too far.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:42
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    Multiple users have raised concerns in comments and flags that this question is not asked in good faith. I think we can answer directly the question asked here about procedure in Academia: "is it appropriate to adjust grades for students from underrepresented groups?" from a perspective that not everyone is equally informed about issues of representation in academia and that it's possible especially for people educated in systems where these issues are not emphasized to be unsure about what to do in systems that care about them. As such, this Q&A can be useful to people besides the asker.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:53
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    Could you clarify what you mean by “asked in good faith”?
    – user166593
    Jan 11, 2023 at 22:49
  • 4
    Asked because you want an answer to the question posted, versus intending to participate in debate or to criticize a particular view through satire.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 11, 2023 at 22:54

8 Answers 8


No, actually. That would be the worst possible "accommodation". It would probably get a person fired due to the numerous and vociferous and valid complaints of the other students.

The issue, making some "accommodation" necessary for some students, isn't their gender, or race, or ethnicity, or .... Rather it is that the education system in the US in years prior to university is terribly unbalanced, partly due to historical reasons and partly due to the way that we finance primary and secondary education. We use local property tax for the main funding mechanism. This means if you are poor and (because of discrimination and "redlining") you live in a poor neighborhood, there is much (much) less funding available for your schools. This leads to lower teacher salaries and fewer support staff in many places which leads to some quality issues in the teaching staff, though this is compensated for by the extreme dedication of some teachers. Jaime Escalante was one such dedicated secondary school teacher (see Stand and Deliver).

What is required of a university professor (indeed all teachers) is that you teach every student. That is to say, you make it possible for every student to succeed regardless of their background. If they are "good enough" for admission, then they are "good enough" to excel in college. But you need to make that possible.

You also need to be aware that every student is different and so you need to do more for some than for others. You are not a "presenter of material - take it or leave it." "Equal treatment" is unlikely to lead to successful educational outcomes unless the level of instruction is so low/poor that anyone can grok it.

Those with a weaker background will need more help. It isn't their fault that the secondary school they went to didn't have a great math teaching staff. Nor is it their personal quality that let them go to one or the other of the finest high schools in the land.

But, giving unearned "points" to any student is just a way of replicating failure. "I will make it appear that you are successful even though I don't require that you learn at the needed level." This pretty much assures that the person will fail later in life without some extraordinary intervention that you should be providing.

If a student is willing to do the work, they should be able to learn if you are willing to do what is necessary to teach them. The accommodation they need, actually, is your time and effort.

But, free points for minorities???

Don't. Go. There.

A personal note: While I have a few former students who are now university faculty (with doctorates), one of my happiest educational experiences was two students, who previously had few successful experiences wind up at the top of the class in a difficult course (compiler construction).

They spent the semester camped out in my office asking question after question, some repeatedly. They worked very hard. At the end, they suggested explaining a complex topic to me for verification, rather than asking for a solution. The class over all was very talented and some of the students resented these two, calling them "ringers". But the two of them learned the value of hard work.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:42
  • 3
    Remember when comments are moved to chat to continue any conversation there; comments can't be moved more than once, so your follow-up comments will be merely deleted.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 11, 2023 at 17:51

Not only is this a bad idea, but it is likely illegal if you work for a public school. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down policies that provide a quantifiable advantage to underrepresented individuals, such as in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and Gratz v. Bollinger.

Also, Ibram Kendi doesn't exactly have the most middle of the road views, so I'd take a less radical approach. Instead of giving free points to make up for disadvantages, re-evaluate what aspects of your course are the source of those disadvantages and fix them.


As others have said, "no, don't do this". There are many problems with it.

To my mind, the factually correct content of concern for DEI is that not everyone has had the same privileges, both earlier, and ongoing... and/but lack of privilege does not imply incapacity, nor does having privilege imply increased capacity.

"Privilege" tends to make one's resume look better, by many conventional measures. Part of my own thinking about this, while looking at graduate math admissions and so on, is to try to distinguish the effects of privilege from actual potential/capacity.

And so on. A very complicated thing.

But, again, the proposed grading scheme is not helping anyone, as it stands.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:55

As others have noted, what you are proposing is illegal in the US.

Here are a few ideas of what you can do as a mathematics faculty member to promote DEI at your institution:

  1. Serve on DEI committees and lend your mathematical/statistical expertise to the committee. Help to analyze the data at your institution to see in which ways you could be better serving minoritized students.
  2. Do this data analytics work internally in your own department.
  3. You can think about making your course materials and presentations accessible to people with disabilities. Are the documents you generate accessible using a screen reader for a blind student? Are you selecting color schemes which are accessible to colorblind students?
  4. You can think about making your writing and speaking more accessible to people who speak English as a second language. Are you speaking in the plainest possible English to convey the mathematics?
  5. Does your department offer remedial courses? Are minoritized students over-represented in these courses? What sort of intellectual experience are these courses offering? Are they offering interesting mathematical experiences or rote drill work? You might question the assumption that mindless drill will serve these students better than a rigorous mathematical experience. The "level" of the content should not be conflated with the "level" of rigor, creativity, and meaningful work which can be done in a given context.
  6. You can take steps to eliminate the impact of your implicit bias in the classroom. Grade anonymously. Call on students using a random generator. Group students randomly during group work.
  7. As you co-create mathematics with your students in class you can celebrate the contributions of each student. For instance, if a student contributes a key idea or perspective you can explicitly mention this. I often even develop local names for such ideas which explicitly give credit to the ideas originator ("we can use Arpit's strategy of adding and subtracting the same quantity here..."). You can keep a private record of which students you have celebrated in this way through the semester. If you notice that there are some students who you have not so celebrated, you can be more mindful to look for opportunities where they do make a significant contribution that you can celebrate.

I will not reproduce my whole DEI statement here, but I hope you get the point. One can pay serious attention to these issues and take concrete actionable steps.

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    Would also put something on this list about the “hidden curriculum” and making it explicit. This is things like explaining what office hours are and how to take maximum advantage of them vs assuming students know…
    – Dawn
    Jan 11, 2023 at 0:53
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    @Dawn totally! It came as a shock to me when a student asked me if we could meet, I told them that my office hours were always available for drop ins, and they let me know that they thought office hours were the times I was busy doing office work, and should not be disturbed! Jan 11, 2023 at 1:39
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    Compiling numbers is particularly useful for people who aren't naturally inclined to bending people's ears, soap boxes, "beer and sandwiches", etc, but want to make a difference. For example, during the admissions process does diversity increase or otherwise at each stage. This could indicate whether attention should be turned to initial marketing of the course, or to the selection process. Similarly for attrition, grades etc, within individual classes, etc.
    – Dan
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:36

A good thing that might apply to a math class is presenting non-male, non-white, non-etc. role models. Take Emmy Noether, Alan Turing, or Katherine Johnson, facing obstacles for being female, gay, and black, they achieved a lot. It is not only Gauss or Newton who moved the frontier of mathematics.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:59

School reputation is at stake, therefore no. The school itself should be adamantly against this.

We like hiring graduates from the local university system because we know it produces quality students for the fields we are hiring. The school has a reputation with the people who are responsible for the hiring. They are familiar with the curriculum, and past experience has shown good results from those hires. This gives real practical value to the school, and its degrees, and attracts even more students as a result.

It's easy to imagine it going the other way. If a school inflates grades and ends up passing students who shouldn't pass, then it deflates the value of that degree, from that school. If a company has a few bad hires from a particular university, I would expect to see the hiring managers see that school on a resume and think twice before bothering with an interview.

"Disadvantaged students" (who can come in all colors -- being a minority student doesn't automatically imply "disadvantaged", either) may need extra help, but that should come in the form of something that produces a good end product -- a knowledgeable graduate with a legitimate degree that they earned. Inflating grades damages everyone: the school, the student, the companies that hire students, and future students of that school.

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    Not just the school reputation, but the reputations of every minority student who never got such accommodations and still suceeded (of which there are many!). Imagine going through your career with peers who think you were gifted your degree and didn't earn it through hard work and merit. Jan 11, 2023 at 2:52

Answers here focus on legality and group rights, but I wanted to mention another reason why this is an ethically bad idea: every person belongs to many groups, but every person is also an individual. Everybody works for themselves while studying and they will live for themselves. What matters is not how hard they have had it in their life, but what they will be trained to do after school; they need those skills, not pity.

Putting obstacles before any group or making it easier for a specific group is always harmful to individuals, and in extreme cases can be called classism, sexism, or racism.

However, were you to offer help to struggling students — regardless of their background — that would be not only ethically much better, but in many ways an optimal solution (i.e. standards and outcome would not be compromised, while opportunity would be equalized). Naturally, that begs the question if it's more beneficial to focus on the struggling ones instead of helping the best ones become even better, and many others as well. That's just the only way of having a cookie and eating it out there.


In my understanding, DEI (especially E and I) should seek to compensate for disadvantages a student might have, not provide advantages to certain groups. Some examples - all things I've seen implemented at a secondary school in Germany:

  • If a student struggles writing longer texts by hand, give them the option to use a PC.
  • A student whose mother tongue is not english (or whatever the language of instruction is) might profit from being allowed to use a dictionary.
  • Visual impairment? The student would get an electronic copy of the formulary that allowed zooming in and out.
  • A student with dyslexia gets less deductions due to spelling errors.

And so on. A student only gets compensation if they ask for it, and it should fit the limitations that student faces. There is no way a student will simply get bonus points.

Of course, those don't help with the "diversity" part of DEI, and I really don't know what to suggest. I studied engineering, we were four girls in our year of about 40. Whenever there was some event seeking to "encourage girls to study engineering", the boys let us know that they considered this unfair, some jokingly, some rather serious, and (as far as I can tell) with rather limited success. But bonus points on exams? There would have been quite an uproar, if not legal measures being taken...

  • If you address the difficulties people face due to their physiology, psychology or background, that alone doesn't fix all problems with diversity, but it does help nonetheless, because the fact that it's not plausible for someone to succeed is likely to stop them from applying, and it's going to hinder diversity of graduates, even if diversity of applicants is fine.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:38
  • "A student with dyslexia gets less deductions due to spelling errors" ‒ how is this different from what the OP is asking? "less deductions" is exactly the same as "extra points", so you're giving them points as a gift. I do see the difference between a disability and the social/race/etc background that may have created a disadvantage in earlier stages of education; but still, this suggestion sounds not so much like providing an accomodation. How is this fair to other dyslexic students that worked twice as hard to ensure they don't make spelling mistakes despite their condition?
    – Cal-linux
    Jan 13, 2023 at 1:25
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    @Cal-linux I think generally the right approach would be to not punish any students for spelling errors (outside of a language or typing class), to accommodate students with dyslexia (and to just mark in a reasonable way). And as for language classes, how to accommodate students with dyslexia is perhaps not such a trivial question, that we probably wouldn't be able to solve in a comment section. And also, medical conditions are different from background, become you can't educate someone out of medical conditions, but you can educate them to "fix" their background to a reasonable degree.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 13, 2023 at 9:35
  • @Cal-linux Someone with dyslexia would arguably have different target outcomes (that may not include being able to spell all words correctly), so you don't want to fail them due to their dyslexia, but you probably also don't want to grade students differently. If a spelling error is clearly due to dyslexia rather than not having learnt how to spell a word, then I think the obvious response would be to not deduct marks for that, regardless of whether the student has been diagnosed with dyslexia. But the cause of an error may not always be obvious.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 13, 2023 at 9:36
  • It may be worth pointing out that, while one shouldn't mark students differently based on gender, race and background, one should take such things into account in teaching. As a very trivial example, if all your word problems in maths class only feature boys, that might contribute to girls subconsciously feeling like they don't "belong" in that class or that they "shouldn't" be good at maths. Different people (often in different demographics, but not necessarily so) may also respond well to different styles of teaching, so sticking to one teaching style may unfairly disadvantage some students.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 13, 2023 at 10:24

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