Incremental change: how it happens

November 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am a tenured Associate at a mid-sized Canadian university that has a pretty healthy atmosphere. I wish we had more women and people of colour, and I occasionally have to point out my colleagues patriarchal white supremacist feet in their mouths, but they will *listen,* and by and large it’s a collegial and respectful group.

To encourage my philosophy colleagues to make their curricula more inclusive, I have been strategic. I have taken on the much neglected official chore of coordinating and creating discussion in the department around “teaching and learning.” This portfolio gives me independent reason to speak that can’t be dismissed as “feminist griping” or any other sort of partisanship (I am cross-appointed to Women’s Studies). (I hate to presume my colleagues would be so suspicious but I want to be as effective as possible in bypassing their biases in order to make the most of my efforts.)

I have urged my colleagues that due to stereotype threat and implicit bias they are not reaching women students in the way they might. I posted up as many resources as I could find on a “philosophy teaching and learning” site that I created in our teaching web platform (Sakai-based), and I hope to build this site steadily and send out notices periodically about the improvement to the resources.

My efforts have not been completely futile, although the uptake has been somewhat disappointing. Hardly anyone has actually looked at the resources I’ve posted (I can produce reports showing who visits). However, my colleagues do seem to be paying attention to my announcements about the site: two (of around 10) have since shared with me in person their effort to involve more women authors in their course readings (plus one feminist women who discussed it with me in general terms of acceptance).

So why aren’t my colleagues actually looking at the resources I posted that provide rationales for including more readings by women? I like to think this may be because they already accept that more women need to be included in the philosophy curriculum. (Note: I was hired specifically to teach feminism.) However, they get careless, and fall back on what they know, like we all can. They don’t need the rationale, just the reminder and perhaps some direction to appropriate sources.

I may sound naive, or excessively optimistic, but one colleague, J, expressed to me that he appreciated the prompt to make his educational practice consistent with his political (and philosophical) commitments. I continue to build the web resource — and the moral, epistemological, and philosophical pressure that come with the easy availability of relevant resources. I hope and even expect that there will be a gradual shift in the shape of our curriculum, and perhaps in the number of women in our program too.

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