September 18, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Eric Schliesser and Mark Lance have started a petition in support of the Gendered Conference Campaign, and it’s now got more than 500 signatures!
August 17, 2012 § 37 Comments
A philosopher seeks discussion of the following:
The [Leiter Reports post] on women’s experiences, awful as they are, doesn’t address a related issue, namely the degree to which women in academe are abused by *students.* A former colleague of mine was subjected to such abuse from the moment of her on campus interview for the position. That abuse came from a graduate student, and it was outrageous. But then this same colleague was verbally abused and taunted, repeatedly, by male students in her classes, over a period of some years. I’m happy to say that these students did not get away with this behavior; this former colleague is one tough person who would not idly suffer that type of abuse from students. But why should she have been the subject of this in the first place?
Maybe you and your many readers would have comments on this aspect of women’s academic experience?
August 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Although relatively young, the Minorities and Philosophy working group (MAP for short) at Yale University has already seen three stages of development.
It was born in Fall 2010 as Women and Philosophy working group. This was a group of female graduate students interested in addressing the issue of the dearth of women in philosophy, and the related issues of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment in academia, that had been brought to the fore by your sister-blog (“What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?”). The formation of the group was supported from the very beginning by Prof. Tamar Gendler, chair of the department.
During the first meeting of Women and Philosophy, which included both undergraduate and graduate female students, the participants voted to open the working group to male participants. The decision was taken after weighing considerations for and against a co-ed group. Among the reasons against, there was the interest in creating a friendly and welcoming place for women in a mostly male environment, along the lines of similar initiatives (see for instance the Women Faculty Forum Lunches at Yale). Among the reasons for, there was the shared conviction that in order to improve such an environment it was fundamental to include men in the dialogue, and to send the message that questions of gender should be a matter of attention of a department (and a profession) as a whole.
The group therefore started its activities under the name of Gender and Philosophy in February 2011, with a talk by Ruth Barcan Marcus titled “Women in Philosophy: Past, Present and Future”. It was followed by three other talks, all well-attended by women and men alike, and by faculty, graduates and undergraduates alike.
In 2011-2012 GAP held eight meetings, four per semester, which consisted of 2 reading groups and 6 talks from internal and external speakers.
In both years of activity, we received organizational support from the Women Faculty Forum at Yale, which co-sponsored some of the events, and financial support from both the university (namely the Dean’s Fund for Research Workshops of the Graduate School) and the department.
At the end of its second year, GAP evolved into MAP, Minorities and Philosophy, after the decision to expand the scope to issues concerning any minority issues in philosophy. Starting from this school year, we plan to host talks addressing: a) the minority issues in the profession, b) theoretical issues regarding philosophy of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, etc., and c) philosophy done from minority perspectives.
The group maintains its characteristic openness in content and format. With regard to the latter, so far we have had both informal talks with extended discussion, and reading groups, and we are looking into the possibility of a lecture series and workshops of a more practical character (for instance, workshops on communication techniques). With regard to the former, we believe that addressing the minority gap in philosophy requires a multi-focused strategy.
On the one hand, it is necessary to diagnose the nature of the problem and its causes. One way to do this is to ask questions from the internal perspective of philosophy and its specific characteristics (for instance, is there anything in philosophy that is uniquely responsible for the professional and academic disadvantage of minority groups?). Another way is to look at analogous issues in other disciplines to diagnose fundamental problems, and ideally, offer solutions.
On the other hand, it is important to show that philosophy can be done in many ways. One way to make philosophy friendlier to women and other minorities is to make philosophy more about women and other minorities – to discuss issues in feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and so forth. Additionally, it is also important to have speakers who are members of minority groups, independently of what their philosophical interests are. We want to address the minority gap by giving prominence to the minority members themselves.
Moving from GAP to MAP is not just a name change but a sign of optimism: we really hope we can contribute to finding the paths to fill the gaps in our profession.
on behalf of
the MAP organizers
at Yale University
Julia von Bodelschwingh (graduate student)
Nathanael Deraney (undegraduate student)
Eric Guindon (graduate student)
Yena Lee (undergraduate student, graduated 2012)
Cameron McCulloch (undegraduate student)
Sara Protasi (graduate student)
Daniel Putnam (graduate student)
June 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
Axel Mueller at Northwestern writes:
We just got note from NORTHWESTERN’s administration that they authorize our RUTH BARCAN MARCUS CLINIC FOR LOGIC. This is a peer-tutoring program aimed at supporting students in our large Intro to Logic courses who are either ‘struggling’ (i.e. perform at or below C-) or performing below their own average GPA-level in logic. This initiative grew out of the realization that philosophy, and particularly logic, has a pattern of discouragement and underrepresentation of women and other groups entering college with a disadvantage that is more similar to STEM-fields than to humanities or social sciences. Our own in-house statistics showed that, while the enrollment of women in logic was at about 30%, the ratio of women among the group of struggling students was at 50%, and among the group of students underperforming at about 48%. We concluded that logic would be a good place to start in removing sources of discouragement. According to the stereotype-threat and micro-messaging research, it seemed to us likely that the overproportional presence of women (and other stereotypically disadvantaged groups, whose ratios were even worse) was not being affected by the routine discussion groups lead by GAs, but called for the pin-pointed and face-to-face removal of pre-existing individual difficulties of either a motivational nature or, very often, a grown adversity in formal sciences that is based on precisely the stereotyping patterns the effects of which we try so hard to overcome. The Dean’s office acknowledged that fact and for this reason gave the go ahead.
The basic idea is to have UG-students (preferably among them also members of the mentioned groups) who showed excellence in logic figure as peer-tutors in a drop-in clinic that is open 2 hrs. per week and widely publicized among the students of our logic intros. The peer-tutors (about 3 per quarter logic is offered) offer individual face-to-face help, and we expect their rapport to their peers to be much more effective than that of those who students typically perceive as “superiors” (professor and GAs), and thus to really have the potential to be a game-changer. In exchange, the peer-tutors receive the title “Ruth Barcan Marcus Tutor in Formal Logic”, and an award, the “Ruth Barcan Marcus Award for Tutoring Formal Logic” (hopefully, monetary), at graduation, with recognition at the dean’s reception for all award winners of the college. These latter compensations, in turn, count as valuable assets in the tutors’ CVs when it comes either to apply to grad school or for employment. Since we hope to attract as many women as possible as tutors, may be this can also contribute a little to decreasing pipelining.
We are very excited about this new part of our general women-friendliness initiative, and hope its presence will help us further in the atmospheric, but also the real-world improvements for women in philosophy at Northwestern.
May 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I’m reproducing below my response to the first prompt (“describe your program’s efforts and achievements to support and recognize women in philosophy”) on the survey recently circulated by the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women. I am also appending an editorial comment.
Five years ago, the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan had one woman faculty member. Today, we have six. These six are healthily distributed across academic ranks: two are assistant professors, two associate, and two full (one of whom is Chair). They are also healthily distributed across philosophical sub-disciplines, with research interests that include epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of feminism, ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, philosophy of physics, and the history of philosophy. A woman who pursues graduate study at UM thus has a good chance of finding a woman faculty member whose interests overlap with her own.
The gender demographic of our graduate students, particularly the cohort yet to attain candidacy, also makes it likely that a woman graduate student will find other women graduate students with similar interests. Half of our present first-year class are women; the majority of our incoming first-year class are women; in AY 2012-2013, well over 50% of our pre-candidate students will be women. Philosophy remains a disproportionately male field, one in which women are liable to feel isolated as women. We hope that our faculty and graduate student demographics temper that liability.
Every graduate student is assigned a faculty advisor upon matriculating. This formal mentoring is reinforced by mechanisms of informal mentoring, both by faculty and by advanced graduate student. Several of these bring women students and faculty together, for instance, a weekly women’s coffee.
We sustain a variety of programs that enable students (of any gender) to develop curricular and co-curricular interests, including interests that challenge the caricature of a philosopher as an ivory tower intellectual, aloof from contingencies of social context. Two examples of such programs are an interdisciplinary speaker series in feminist science studies and an afterschool philosophy tutoring program, conceived and staffed by graduate students, and set in a Dearborn high school.
The UM ADVANCE program develops and implements instruments for climate assessment, and counsels departments on strategies for improving the climate. The University requires every faculty member serving on a graduate admissions or faculty search committee to participate in an ADVANCE program documenting the impact of implicit biases on evaluations. It also requires periodic departmental climate assessments. Beyond these requirements, the philosophy department initiates work with ADVANCE when we believe it makes sense to do so. In 2009, and in response to a growing sense that climate change might be in order, we solicited an extraordinary climate study. Right now, we are working with ADVANCE to understand why only around 30% of our philosophy majors are women. (This is consistent with national averages, but we would like to do better.)
Climate is adamantly a matter that affects every member of the department. Still, it is not inappropriate here to cite what the most recent (March 2012) climate survey indicated about the departmental climate for women specifically. 100% of the graduate students reporting agreed that “there is a supportive department community for women students” (up from 32% in 2009), and 95% agreed that “the environment is one in which women feel comfortable and included” (up from 34% in 2009).
Editorial comment: Although we are proud of the recent climate survey data, I think it would be a mistake to read the survey numbers to indicate that our climate is perfect. Rather, I take them to be a signal from survey respondents that they’ve noticed that we value healthy climates, and that we’re trying to improve ours. Climates are by nature works in progress, so our improvement efforts are ongoing.
Professor and Chair of Philosophy
University of Michigan
April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
This morning, after some weeks of consultation with a few colleagues and friends, a member of my department came out as trans. She wrote a note (too personal to share) to departmental colleagues and sent it to my chair for distribution. My chair attached it to the letter below. I think that it’s a wonderful example of how to handle such matters well.
My chair and the colleague to whom my chair refers have both given me permission to share the letter. However, I think it’s best not to name the department, and you’ll see that I left out any identifying information. You may of course use my foregoing paragraph by way of introduction if you like.
I attach a letter that XXXX has written to the department faculty, staff and students, and I ask that you read it.
I will not attempt to summarize XXXX’s courageous and lucid explanation of her situation and her plans. Rather, I will take this opportunity to ask for your understanding and cooperation in honouring, as best you may, XXXX’s request for support.
University policy requires “that each member of the University endeavour to contribute to the existence of a just and supportive community based on equality and respect for individual differences.” Yet the immediately relevant consideration here is surely one of departmental community rather than the dictates of policy. I hope we can all put some thought and effort into accommodating XXXX’s preferences regarding, e.g., how she is referred to, and how peers interact with her.
For people wishing more perspective and insight on dealing with transgender persons, I can suggest the following wiki as a useful resource:
One practical matter to consider, which has almost certainly come up before in XXXX Hall without becoming general knowledge, is that there are no single-user washrooms in the building. Early efforts are under way to establish a university policy on washroom facility use for transgender persons; but until such a policy is in place, the appropriate course (for everyone) is to use the washroom corresponding best to one’s presented gender.
I won’t pretend confidence that I will never slip up or embarrass myself by dealing incompetently with XXXX’s gender transition. But I can say that XXXX has made it easy for us right from the outset, by being open and socially generous about it. Thank you all in advance for making your best effort to repay this openness with support and cooperation.
April 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I recently led a class discussion group on a feminist philosophy class. I noticed at one point early on that I had ended up talking to one man in the class by looking mostly at him (when purportedly presenting to the whole class) and had apparently angled my body to be facing him. There were few men in the class, and he was on the rights whereas most women were on the left. He also had the most questions and talked the most. Anyways, I felt self conscious about this and tried to make sure I spoke to the rest of the class, and right away the women in the class started participating and engaging in discussion. All I think I did was make sure that I spoke towards the women too. I think this goes to show how very implicit things like who a speaker simply makes eye contact with or faces while speaking could influence things like whether others feels it is appropriate to talk or raise topics in class, and how this can be nevertheless be implicitly biased in even those who are very aware of the issues raised on this blog.