Today is March 2. The dust has long settled since the March of Resilience in November, and the only time I now hear anyone say “we gon’ be alright” is when I put Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” on shuffle. Maybe I’m in the wrong circles, but it surely seems like the prominence of activism on campus has fizzled, and we’ve all retreated into our familiar routines. Undisrupted. Undisturbed.
But has our education at Yale become any more diverse?
I don’t think mine has markedly changed in light of the events last fall. While I’m glad that there have been discussions surrounding faculty diversity initiatives, they seem to be happening on too broad of a scale. Some disciplines — like philosophy — are markedly less diverse than others.
I’ve known that I wanted to study philosophy since I was around 14. When I read Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and excerpts from Plato’s “Republic,” I knew that the discipline was right for me. Unlike many other subjects that I’d previously studied, philosophy required vigorous proofs and justifications for all arguments. It wasn’t polemic, and it didn’t require useless memorization. Talking about philosophical concepts required a beautiful synthesis of information drawn from areas including science, math, aesthetics and logic. Although many people question the relevance — and practicality — of philosophy, it teaches important skills in critical thinking, reading, writing and logical reasoning that are translatable to any discipline. Moreover, many of these philosophical questions can be applied to pressing issues concerning race, gender and sexuality — I was hooked.
Unfortunately, the discipline doesn’t seem to love me back. Every time I go to Connecticut Hall for office hours, I mainly see white faces on the wall displaying pictures of the faculty. In a November 2013 article in The Guardian titled “How can we end the male domination of philosophy?” reporter Jonathan Wolff writes that philosophy is one of the most male-dominated disciplines in the humanities. Popular blogs such as “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” also outline sexist practices that arise from the gender gap, even instances of sexual assault. However, sexism isn’t the only problem. Emory professor George Yancy describes about the field in his November 2014 New York Times article “Lost in Rawlsland.” In it, he interviews Charles Mills, a prominent philosopher who teaches at Northwestern. Mills describes that philosophy is one of the least racially diverse disciplines in academia; it’s about 97 percent white demographically.
However, in spite of issues concerning racism and sexism, I do not think that such problems for the discipline are unsalvageable. The first way that we can begin to ameliorate this problem is by diversifying the curriculum. Today, it seems as if much of academia is fixated on analytic philosophy, as opposed to post-colonial or continental theory that analyzes our relationships with power structures such as race, gender and class. Courses like “Feminist and Queer Theory” should be cross-listed in the Philosophy Department. Additionally, more classes in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the African American Studies Department should be cross-listed. Although there are student-run groups — such as the newly formed “anti-Directed Studies” group I’m a part of — that discuss connections between “critical theory” and philosophy, these are topics that should be more central to the mainstream discipline. Placing issues such as sexism, racism and classism on the periphery of philosophical education does not help to solve many of the problems that plague the discipline.
Another way in which we can improve the department’s relationship with these issues is by looking for specific faculty members who specialize in the intersection between “traditional” philosophy and theory that discusses post-modern and continental theory. Saidiya Hartman GRD ’92, Cornel West, Charles Mills, Martha Nussbaum, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, Jared Sexton and Frank Wilderson are all contemporary scholars who specialize in many of these areas. Although there is a disparity in the amount of scholars of color in the field, they do exist.
Philosophy has some major problems with diversity,but it is by no means the only discipline with these issues. However, the fact remains that each department needs to take a different approach to inclusion.
And we don’t need a proof to know that.
Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .