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Math Appreciation Week 2019: Keynote on Gerrymandering, Standup Comedy, and More

May 24, 2019
Bertrand's Paradox

The Department of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College organized a series of events in mid-April to celebrate Math Appreciation Week 2019.

Keynote speaker Mira Bernstein of Tufts University gave the talk "Gerrymandering: Why It’s More Complicated Than You Might Think" at the Bi-Co Math Colloquium on Monday, April 15, at Park Science Center. Bernstein holds a research faculty position in the interdisciplinary program in Science, Technology, and Society at Tufts and is a founding member of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group.

In her presentation, she gave an overview and brief history of gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing boundaries of electoral districts in a way that unfairly benefits or hurts a particular group of voters, and then introduced the audience to the different mathematical tools that have been developed to combat different kinds of gerrymandering. 



As she put it in her presentation summary, "In the case of partisan gerrymandering, the challenge lies in articulating a quantitative standard of partisan fairness, which turns out to be much trickier than your intuition might suggest. In the case of racial gerrymandering, the challenge is to show that race is a relevant variable at all! After all, racial gerrymandering can only occur if different races tend to vote differently, and this is extremely difficult to prove when we have no way of knowing how any given individual voted."

She said that while there is a growing movement nationally aimed at eradicating gerrymandering, "many of the properties that people expect from a 'fair' districting plan turn out to be inherently contradictory. It is only once we understand what the trade-offs are that we can make intelligent decisions for the future."

Comedian Sammy Obeid performed at Park Science Center on Tuesday of Math Appreciation Week.

Obeid was an applied math major at UC-Berkeley and now performs standup. He has been featured on Conan, Last Comic Standing, and America's Got Talent, and has performed at more than 500 colleges across the country, as well as before math organizations like MAA and Cal Math.

A 2018 Video Showcases Sammy Obied's Blend of Math and Comedy

A Thursday event during Math Appreciation Week featured the first part of a two-stage effort to build the world's largest K'NEX Sierpinski Triangle. This successful endeavor was led by Professor of Mathematics Victor Donnay and mathematics majors in his Senior Conference Praxis course.

Other events held during the busy Math Appreciation Week were a Möbius Bagel Brunch on Wednesday, an origami workshop on Thursday, and a Friday night screening of Good Will Hunting.