Yale Minorities and Philosophy Group

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.

Sara Protasi
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)


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