Dominique Kemp, First Black Graduate To Receive Math Ph.D. From Indiana University
After nearly a century after IU alumnus Elbert Frank Cox became the first Black man in the world to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, from Cornell University, Kemp on Friday became the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from IU.
When first starting his program in 2015, Kemp said he did not think much about possibly being the first, describing his feelings as nonchalant. As racial injustice and representation came more to the forefront of American society over the past few years, Kemp said the milestone came to mean more to him.
“Doing graduate school has really opened my eyes to the problem of underrepresentation of Blacks in the STEM field. And now it has become a big deal to me,” Kemp said.
“We’ve been receiving a lot of news of abuse or questions of whether or not Blacks are in the wrong when we see these different incidents happening,” he said, such as the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. “But I’m hoping that this milestone speaks to the fact that Black individuals have a lot of promise. We are more than the impression of our past. We are out here striving, each in our own way, and there is a lot we can accomplish when given the opportunity.”
The lack of representation in science, technology, engineering and math sectors and academic departments is one reason Kemp said he thinks many Black people don’t go into the field in the first place. He said it’s a daunting task to be the first of any background to accomplish something, and facing stereotypes among peers and feeling pressure to be exceptional all can cause someone to not complete or never start down the path to a STEM career.
“More often than not, it can be psychological. But to be a Black person in America, we know there are stereotypes out there and we each feel a pressure to show those stereotypes are not true, and so we feel like we need to be the best in the classroom,” he said.
Kemp will begin a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin over the summer, followed by taking a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 2023.