Mentoring fellow students

May 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am an Honours year philosophy undergraduate and the president of the Philosophy Association at a large Australian university.

Like most undergraduate philosophy students I watched the proportion of women in my classes shrink year by year as I got further along in the program. No single cause for such change sprang to mind – almost half of the teaching staff are female, the staff are supportive and respectful, feminist philosophy is taught at the undergraduate level and so on. I didn’t feel the desire to leave the major myself at any point. Yet the change is noticeable and disturbing.

As I don’t have the means to do pedagogical research, I’ve been asking other women why they dropped the philosophy major, and asking those who pursued it if they ever considered dropping it and why they stayed. No clear picture emerged, but I did get some ideas as to what a small club like ours could do.

In the beginning of the year our club held a discussion event on the situation of women in philosophy. It was friendly and informal, with most of our female Philosophy lecturers attending and leading the discussion. Around fifty club members attended, and we’ve received some very positive feedback about the event.

We also run a mentorship program for students enrolled in introductory philosophy, logic and cognitive science courses. While it is not specifically aimed at women, we hope that by making senior students available to give in-person feedback and encouragement to students we can boost their self-esteem and act as role models, having done the introductory courses ourselves. The majority of out mentees are female.

I don’t know if these efforts will be successful in the long run. However, our efforts demonstrate that even small student-run clubs can contribute to promoting gender equality in philosophy without straining their resources.

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