Why we are | College of Arts

Why we are

Academic Philosophy has a diversity problem. More than any other discipline in the humanities, women and minorities are underrepresented at all levels among students and faculty. In recent years there has been a lot written about the climate of academic philosophy and how it contributes to this unhappy state of affairs (see Appendix One). What we know is that climate problems discourage some women and minority students from pursuing philosophy degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level, and from pursuing philosophy as a profession. We also know that they can contribute to an unsupportive professional environment for those who remain (for some examples of this see the blog What Is It Like to Be a Women in Philosophy: https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/).

Why Is The Problem In Philosophy So Bad?

Academic philosophy has had its share of cases of gross misconduct, like sexual harassment, favouritism, and outright discrimination. Certainly, these cases contribute to the diversity problem in philosophy, but arguably they would not occur in a climate that did not permit them. Some have argued that the adversarial nature of philosophy turns away women and members of visible minorities who, it has been suggested (however problematically, since we have lots of evidence to the contrary) aren’t good at or ‘cut out’ for the rigours of the discipline. Another, more plausible suggestion is that some subjects of study – feminist philosophy, queer theory, philosophy of disability, theory of race – are considered ‘unphilosophical’, which puts students and philosophers doing this kind of work at a disadvantage from the get-go. Another contributing factor could be the lack of representation of women and minorities on course syllabi (this could be one reason why, as studies show, the proportion of women in philosophy courses and/or majors drops off after introductory courses).

But It’s Not All Terrible News!

In fact, we’ve got some very good news to report on this front. Philosophers are taking seriously the problems facing our discipline. They are talking about the various issues, writing about them, and attempting to address them, and these efforts are being supported and encouraged by the discipline’s institutions and representative members. As a result of these ongoing efforts to address climate and diversity in philosophy, there is a heightened awareness among philosophers of the various issues at stake.

Again, we are seeing significant efforts made to shift the current climate of academic philosophy, including initiatives from the American Philosophical Association and the British Philosophical Association, as well as singular efforts by philosophy departments across North American and Europe (see Appendix One). Philosophy has an image problem, to be sure, but it wants to change its image (e.g. see the blog: What We are Doing about What it’s Like: https://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/).

There is also the Gendered Conference Campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male conferences and the harm that they do in perpetuating stereotypes of philosophy as male (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/gendered-conference-campaign/).

How do we at Guelph measure up? The answer is, good on some fronts, not so good on others. The Philosophy Department has 15 full-time tenured faculty members, 6 of whom are women, which is higher than the national average, according to a 2013 study by the Canadian Philosophical Association (http://www.acpcpa.ca/documents/Equity_survey_summary_report-draft2.pdf). That said, we still have a ways to go with respect to other underrepresented groups. Out of 15 faculty, only one is a person of colour.

The Value And Importance Of Our Work:

We believe that there is tremendous value in naming and identifying a set of problems – within the discipline and reflected within our department – and making clear our intention to address them head-on. The DCC is doing just that, and it requires making explicit a particular set of commitments, in this case, that of creating and sustaining a social climate that is safe and inclusive.

We are proud to be able to add our name the list of philosophy departments who are attempting to identify and rectify both formal and informal obstacles to equality of representation in philosophy.

The DCC has work to do, to be sure, but we are eager to do it.