Meet Your Instructor: Felicia Darling

January 26, 2024

5 questions on math, DEIBJ and healing

Headshot of Felicia Darling

Dr. Felicia Darling (she/her) is a first-generation college student and achieved her dream at age 55 of earning a Ph.D. in mathematics education from Stanford University and a Fulbright Scholarship for her ethnographic research in the Yucatán. Felicia believes everyone can be a powerful math learner. She is also a mental health advocate and author of Empathy Unchained™: Heal Your Trauma, Uplift the World, the Empathy Unchained DEIA Conversation Deck, Teachin' It! and the Professor Funnies© cartoon series. She also teaches inclusive yoga and meditation.

As a student in the Fall Program for First Semester (FPF), you can elect to take her Precalculus Mathematics 32 class, where she’ll help you prepare for future calculus classes. Her course covers exponential and logarithmic functions, trigonometry, complex numbers, binomial theorem, conics and analytic geometry.

“After teaching math for more than 30 years at community colleges, comprehensive universities and research universities on both coasts in the United States,” she writes in a recent editorial for Inside Higher Ed, “I have witnessed elitism and exclusion at all levels of higher education.

“Consider the following scenario that frequently occurs in math classes throughout higher education,” she continues to write. “On the first day of class, a math professor announces to students, ‘If you don’t know this, this and this, then you may as well leave, because you are not going to pass this course.’ Five students collect their things and leave.

“Who left? The students who doubted whether they belonged in the college classroom anyway. They might be women; Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) students; formerly incarcerated students; students with disabilities; or first-generation college students. They are students from groups who are underrepresented among those with STEM careers and four-year degrees.

“In a totally different scenario, however, another math professor announces to students on the first day of class, ‘If you don’t know this, this and this, it will take more time and effort to excel in this class. Do not compare yourself to other students who have come to this class already with these skills and knowledge. Instead, access these five resources to help you fill in these gaps in knowledge and succeed in this class: 1) get tutoring at the tutoring center weekly, 2) come to my office hours, 3) review your notes immediately after class, 4) read sections of the text before class to prelearn the material and 5) watch videos from this video bank before and/or after each class to prelearn and/or relearn the material.”

We are so fortunate that Felicia takes the latter approach with our students. Come meet this incredible instructor!

1. Why teach for FPF?

The majority of precalc students at FPF are first-generation college students, students from lower-income backgrounds or other underrepresented students. I have an innate drive to be the mirror that reflects back to every student that they belong at Berkeley. FPF students are breathtakingly motivated to actualize their full potential as changemakers in the world. I am grateful to be a small part of that journey.

I love serving students in transition—like first-year students. They are in a dynamic headspace with a great potential for rapid growth. They frequently require specific support that includes getting connected to campus resources or being offered information about navigating academic expectations.

2. What draws you to teaching precalculus? What can students expect in your classroom?

The majority of students take precalc to prepare for Analytic Geometry and Calculus Mathematics 16A or Calculus Mathematics 1A. I help students both bolster their foundational math skills and develop their identities as powerful math learners. I hold all students to high standards and provide support, feedback and scaffolds to prepare them for future STEM learning.

3. I’m intrigued in how you incorporate social justice into your class. Can you break this down for me?

Social Justice in math class means that every learner claims their right to belong, be seen, and possess agency and power. As math learners, we write our own math stories where we are the protagonists, where our unique ways of making sense out of math count.

In precalc, students connect with mathematicians who share their own identities; discuss how we can make math education less oppressive; and explore a Mayan trig problem related to inequity.

4. Tell me about your passion on DEIBJ allyship and how do you bring this into your classroom?

My research is on students’ lived experiences. On day 1, I tell students that I experienced trauma and homelessness; go to therapy regularly; and have learning disabilities. Normalizing struggle helps students feel included.

Also, when instructors heal our own trauma, it frees up emotional bandwidth to be more present and empathetic toward students’ lived experiences. I draw from my research, writing and personal healing journey to integrate inclusive and trauma-informed practices in the classroom.

5. Where can we find you when you’re not teaching?

I teach yoga and meditation, and continue to improve my Spanish. Also, I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about how we can heal our past hurts to live more empathetically in the present and be more powerful agents of change.

Plus, I have two chihuahua-mix rescue pups who take up a lot of time!