Students interested in the challenges of academia, particularly those faced by women and gender minorities, will soon have a chance to hear from successful female professors in philosophy, women’s and gender studies, and political science at a panel on life in academia.
The panel will take place on January 17 from 2:00-3:30 PM in Assiniboia Hall 2-02A and will be hosted by the Underrepresented Genders in Philosophy club (UGP). Professor Jennifer Welchman, Professor Cressida Heyes, and graduate student Samantha Wesch will give an inside look on what life is like for academics, how they got started in their fields, and the challenges they have faced as women in their disciplines.
“Even though our faculty’s pretty good in terms of gender distribution, you won’t necessarily find women interested in the same subjects as you are,” said UGP president and co-founder Susannah Mackenzie-Freeman. “These pressures make it difficult for underrepresented people to view themselves as potentially an academic. I wanted students to be exposed to a potential role model.”
The panel is part of the UGP’s ongoing outreach strategy to host a mix of events exclusive to members and open to non-members. That way, the club intends to continue to foster a safe space for underrepresented people while encouraging alliances and engagement with more privileged people in philosophy and the wider campus community.
Mackenzie-Freeman, a fourth-year philosophy honours student, said the club’s purpose is to foster diversity and inclusion for underrepresented groups in philosophy, with regular closed meetings providing a safe space for women, trans, and genderqueer students in the discipline.
“Philosophy’s known for being for straight, white, cisgender males, so I’ve experienced a lot of sexism in the department,” she said. “Some people have told me I’m cute when I’m debating philosophy. And I’m like, ‘I’m literally talking about abortion.’”
The club also aims to include other underrepresented groups in philosophy, such as racial and ethnic minorities and members of the disability community. To that end, the UGP has opened its winter research symposium to all underrepresented people (regardless of gender identity), and has developed an online resource showcasing the accomplishments of philosophers with minority identities in the discipline, such as Asian and Black women philosophers.
“Going into philosophy, you get exposure to a lot of white, male philosophers, and presumably straight ones. That can feel quite alienating, even subconsciously,” Mackenzie-Freeman said. “We want to encourage diversity by looking at examples of (diverse philosophers).”
Mackenzie-Freeman is critical of diversity-related events on campus where privileged people dominate the discourse, citing discomfort when underrepresented people are pressured to speak on behalf of an entire minority group.
“Philosophy is about debate and discussion,” she said. “You can’t really have debate and discussion about why women are underrepresented if only two or 10 or so people in the room are women.”
Mackenzie-Freeman ultimately hopes that the club and events like the panel will help students early in their undergraduate careers find a sense of community.
“Philosophy comes with its challenges for underrepresented people. … When I first got to university, I definitely felt really alone, because campus is so huge and there’s so many people,” she said. “But if it’s what you like, you should definitely stay within philosophy, and get out and meet people who are like you.”