Math, Gerrymandering, and Social Justice: Trinity Students Work in Redistricting Lab and Tour Connecticut Legislature

Photo: Professor Kyle Evans’ Math & Redistricting course at the Connecticut State Capitol with Representative Jason Rojas and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.


Why are our legislative district maps shaped the way they are? Trinity College students in Kyle Evans’ MATH/POLS 128 Mathematics and Redistricting course are learning about the mathematics and laws on gerrymandering (manipulating elections by redrawing district boundaries to favor one party) and their impact on the shapes of maps and elected candidates in national and state elections. “Mathematics and Redistricting” has been a hugely popular first-time Community Learning course here at Trinity and it’s in high demand — especially for Public Policy & Law students, as well as students across departments.

The relationship between math, politics, and social justice is a critical component of “Math and Redistricting.” Throughout the semester, students examine course notes, videos, and readings on key concepts such as redistricting policies, the rise of independent commissions, the Efficiency Gap, compactness tests, racial gerrymandering, prison gerrymandering, residential segregation, major court cases involving redistricting and the role of mathematics in law, and more — and their learning is timely. The district shapes will be back in the spotlight next year following the 2020 Census and the decennial cycle of redistricting to follow. Additionally, students are following a timely ruling by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to allow a Connecticut federal court to hear a constitutional challenge to the way Connecticut assigns prison inmates to legislative districts. This the first “prison gerrymandering” case in the U.S. that will be heard by a federal court.

In this course, students are gaining a first-hand understanding of how redistricting works in Connecticut. Professor Kyle Evans organized small group interviews with key legislators and aides who have worked on redistricting as well as a tour of the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol with Representative Jason Rojas. Although the class is delving deep into redistricting law, their tour with Rep. Rojas helped them to contextualize redistricting amongst other high profile political issues currently facing the legislature like transportation plans and gun laws.

Kyle is definitely one of my favorite professors and was honestly the first person to make math interesting for me. With the ability to combine math with tackling real world problems, such as gerrymandering, we have been able to gain a deeper understanding of political issues in our society. We’ve had lectures from people who work on redistricting and an exciting field trip to the Legislative Office Building and State Capitol – these are opportunities that other courses don’t offer. This course has also given us the ability to use unique software to examine redistricting from a more in-depth perspective of which no other college in the nation has access to.” -Harrison Silver ’22

In the classroom, students have worked with their professor and fellow classmates to learn how to analyze U.S. Census and election data and different mathematical approaches used to analyze maps, and thanks to Professor Evans, Trinity’s Raether Library is now home to what’s called the “Redistricting Lab” where students in the course have been granted access to Maptitude for Redistricting, a software used by many state governments, for one semester’s academic use. In the Redistricting Lab, the students will work together and act as a “Redistricting Commission” to create and propose a new Congressional, State Senate, or State House district map for Connecticut.

Last week, we tagged along with these students for their tour of the Legislative Office Building and Connecticut State Capitol with Trinity’s Chief of Staff to the President and Associate VP for External Affairs Jason Rojas, who also serves as a State Representative. While there, we interviewed Kent Shi ‘20, a Public Policy and Hispanic Studies student who has had a lot of experience engaging in Hartford and Connecticut politics, but never liked Math before this course: 

I’m a Public Policy & Law and Hispanic Studies double major and so I had experience interning here for a lobbying firm and for Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez. I knew I also wanted to have some more quantitative experience so I decided to join Kyle’s class. This class has shown me that I actually love Math and how it’s useful in these big political issues.” – Kent Shi ’20

 

[This tour] really contextualized a lot of the legislative action we had been learning about in class. This was a great way to utilize the specific resources we have here at Trinity, being located right here in Hartford. Our Capitol tour with Jason Rojas was in my opinion, one of the coolest things we have done so far in this course. Also, meeting the Governor was really awesome!” – Reagan Flynn ‘23

Professor Evans developed this course with the support of a Community Learning Faculty Fellowship in 2018-19. To view slides, assignments, and more information about Math and Redistricting, visit his web page. Thank you Professor Kyle Evans for providing this unique and timely Community Learning experience for students at Trinity College, and Jason Rojas for organizing the tour of the Capitol.

 


At Trinity College we define Community Learning courses as those that include perspective taking and mutually beneficial relationships with community partners. If you are interested in building a Community Learning component into your course, or you believe your course should be designated  as a Community Learning course, contact Director of Community Learning Megan.Hartline@trincoll.edu.