Really interesting article here.
We need to make room for breaking the silence March 10, 2014
These last few weeks have been difficult for us as a community—and rightly so—but despite all that’s come to light, still, so much remains hidden. Here, at Feminist Philosophers, we have been talking a bit about the pain of silence recently. I think if we are to come out of this stronger as a community, if we’re going to be able to move forward at all, we need to make room for people to not be silent. Sometimes it seems as though we are caught in a web of interlocking prisoners’ dilemmas: Conversations about harassment, discrimination, and assault are difficult and they are often politically risky. In the short run, if we have the luxury, it can seem easier to simply avoid them. But collectively we have the power to make them less risky. We can create a culture in which victims are supported well enough to come forward and active bystanders are cultivated. We can do this by offering our solidarity with those who are marginalized, vulnerable, and would otherwise be ignored; by treating our colleagues with respect even when we disagree with them; by acting with compassion and understanding; by speaking and acting ourselves where possible.
To that end, I must acknowledge what happened here last week, and say that I am thankful for the courageous and peaceful activism of the Northwestern students, for the intervention of Rachel McKinnon (and others) in a comment thread here, and to all of those who are working to make our discipline more inclusive and welcoming.
UPDATE: I also want to acknowledge that our comments policy was violated in a number of ways–and that I am not thankful for. Our ‘Be Nice’ rule is not here simply for the sake of our friends; rather, it’s here so that everyone can participate in healthy and fruitful discussion. It’s important to note these violations even in cases where I’m very glad that something was said. I have also removed the links above.
Some thoughts on epistemic responsibility February 15, 2014
[Trigger warning for discussion of assault]
Throughout my time as a philosopher, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk regarding ‘epistemic responsibility’ when it comes to discrimination, harassment, and assault. I’ve heard it much more frequently over the last few weeks, and so I feel compelled to say a few words about it. As it happens, I think I have a very different view of the nature of epistemic justification and the conditions under which agents can be said to have it than those who bring up epistemic responsibility in these sorts of conversations, but I want to address a slightly different question: What does moral responsibility require of us when allegations of discrimination, harassment, or assault are made? To be clear, what follows is not an endorsement of a presumption of guilt—rather, it’s an endorsement of action, sympathy, and compassion in the absence of certainty. It seems to me that too often appeals to ‘epistemic responsibility’ justify inaction, undermine progress, and enable serious wrongs.
When discrimination, inequity, and violence are carried out by intentional agents and effectively enabled by the communities in which they occur, withholding all judgment for the sake of epistemic responsibility and withholding all action on account of epistemic reasons will very often quite rightly lead to feelings of further alienation in the victim. If, for example, upon becoming familiar with a report of sexual assault, racial discrimination, or a violent hate-crime, you are not passionately moved, that unaffected reaction cannot help but communicate that there is real sense in which you either do not understand the plight before you, or you do not care. In some circumstances (note: I do mean some), this can be more harmful to a victim than the original offense. A certain amount of stupidity and evil in the world are to be expected. What is generally not expected is for good people to stand witness to severe injury and fail to be demonstrably aggrieved by it (note, here, the aptness of ‘injury’ need not entail that the content of any particular allegation is certainly true, or even true). The unexpected nature of this response often makes the hurt which follows more difficult to deal with. It can communicate indifference, it can normalize suffering, and it can steal away hope.
I do not deny that epistemic responsibility is a great good; but when our epistemic practices prevent us from responding to injury altogether, we are in the neighborhood of vice rather than virtue.
I have experienced attempted rape. Surely I would feel differently had my attacker been successful, but for me, what was most traumatizing was not the assault but rather what happened next. It was in a public park. I was able to get away. I ran to a man reading on a bench and told him what happened. He saw I was being followed. He offered to sit with me until it looked like it would be safe to walk home. But that was all he did (and I do mean that was all: he did not offer to take me to the police, to call any one, etc., and it didn’t occur to me to ask for those things). I sat with him for two hours on that bench in silence. In retrospect, I’m sure he just didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what to say—but in those two hours, and in some months that followed, I felt like what happened must not really matter because it didn’t seem to matter much to him. I thought that I was being silly for feeling angry, violated, and scared. In those later moments where I didn’t doubt myself, I doubted the world at large—the capacity of my fellow humans to do right, to be even minimally decent.
I don’t ever want to be the man on that bench to someone else, whether I think I know what happened or not.
What’s the state of your state? January 25, 2014
Readers: Does your state/city/municipality have non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ communities? Is there relevant legislation in place or pending that you know of? Post here on the state of the laws in your place of residence with regard to LBGTQ equality for the sake of our readers on the market, and save some already exhausted candidates some time.
NFL Player fired for speaking up in favor of equality? January 2, 2014
Defer to the Deaf Person: Interpreters and Quality Control December 11, 2013
The story about the charlatan “signed language interpreter” at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service raises awareness about a problem that’s received little attention in mainstream media. This is the problem of signed language interpreter quality control. This is a huge issue in many deaf communities, but I want to focus on the version of the problem that comes up for deaf academics, including deaf philosophers.
Highly professional signed language interpreters follow professional codes of ethics tenets stating interpreters should not accept assignments they aren’t qualified for.
From what I’ve been able to determine, the man who waved his hands around at Mandela’s service was not a signed language interpreter at all, but merely trying to pass as one. That’s an extreme version of the problem of ‘Bad Fit to the Assignment’.
The more common version of the ‘Bad Fit to the Assignment’ problem encountered by deaf academics is the interpreter who accepts an assignment for which she is not qualified.
Sometimes this happens by accident – perhaps vital information about the assignment was not supplied to the interpreter when she made the decision to accept the assignment. Sometimes this happens by hubris – I’ve seen more than a few cocky interpreters who think they can handle anything melt down during philosophy colloquia, both during the reading of the paper and the Q&A. Sometimes this happens because the person handling the request for interpreter accommodations makes mistakes or bad decisions.
When a deaf academic decides to attend an academic event outside of her home community, the process goes something like this.
- See if the conference/workshop/annual meeting registration form lists a contact person for disability accommodations.
- If there is no conference/workshop/annual meeting contact person on the registration form or conference website, expect to invest some hours identifying this person. Seasoned academics with disabilities will recognize this as the point when one mentally allocates a portion of one’s free time to the ‘job’ of being disabled.
- After the contact person is identified, make the request for accommodations, providing as much detail as possible. E.g. if I’m requesting an interpreter for a conference in London, I make a special point of emphasizing that I will need an interpreter for American Sign Language (ASL) (BSL) –English not British Sign Language-English. (ASL and BSL are two completely different sign languages, they use different alphabets, and don’t even come from the same language family!). The deaf academic should also inform the contact person that she expects to be involved in the process of identifying and vetting the signed language interpreter.
Once the request gets underway, this is where things fall apart.
How to avoid this?
Here’s what you can do as a conference/workshop/annual meeting/colloquium organizer to make a better experience for everyone.
- First, involve the deaf person. In particular, deaf academics often have networks of interpreters and other deaf academics who are familiar with the local pool of interpreters and who is qualified to interpret high register academic discourse. Do not brush off the deaf person’s offer of assistance by telling her that you or your university will handle this yourself — even if you happen to be fluent in the local community signed language. Ask us what we need and communicate with us about possible constraints (not just money, but local resources). Odds are good that we’ve encountered similar problems before and may have some solutions.
- Don’t try to save money by doing the legwork yourself, e.g. contacting your niece’s friend who interprets at her church every Sunday. Even if the niece’s friend is certified through say, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID is a US American professional organization for signed language interpreters), she may still not have the qualifications and skills necessary to interpret the assignment. Interpreting philosophy is both demanding and difficult. Many topnotch interpreters won’t take on this kind of highly specialized assignment for fear their skills may not be up to the task.
- Trust the deaf academic’s assessment. If the deaf academic turns down an interpreter, do not ignore this and substitute your own judgment regarding whether or not the interpreter is suitable for the assignment. This holds even if say, your home university tries to foist a specific interpreter on the deaf academic. Interpreters are NOT fungible. There may be reasons beyond skill level for rejecting an interpreter – sometimes it is a matter of concerns about confidentiality, sometimes there are reasons of gender preference, sometimes there are concerns about the interpreter’s professionalism.
Last but not least: a reminder, followed by a coda*:
- Deaf and hard of hearing people have long been excluded from things that concern us – witness the frequency at which we see/hear the phrases “Never mind”, “I’ll tell you later” and “It’s not important”. This pattern also gets extended to our accessibility accommodations. Our expertise is often dismissed (implicit bias, anyone?) even when we are the best person on the planet to make such judgments. (As a personal aside, my professional judgment has been dismissed out of hand (ahem) – and I’ve created much of the ASL philosophical lexicon currently in use.)
- If you want to be an ally to deaf academics, recognize us as experts in not just our academic discipline, but in our own accessibility accommodations.
Why teaching about racism isn’t discrimination December 5, 2013
[Took a while to post this. Was banging head on desk over fact that this needs to be said.]
Notre Dame refiles its HHS lawsuit December 4, 2013
The University of Notre Dame announced yesterday that it would be refiling its lawsuit against the HHS mandate (dismissed last spring) regarding contraceptive health care coverage. University president, Rev. John Jenkins wrote:
The government’s accommodations would require us to forfeit our rights, to facilitate and become entangled in a program inconsistent with Catholic teaching and to create the impression that the university cooperates with and condones activities incompatible with its mission. . . The U.S. government mandate, therefore, requires Notre Dame to do precisely what its sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit — pay for, facilitate access to, and/or become entangled in the provision of objectionable products and services or else incur crippling sanctions.
Amy serves up some advice November 20, 2013
Is your son really gay, or is he just trying to get back at you for forgetting his birthday the past three years? Not sure how to get him to stop before your church group finds out? Amy Dickinson is on the case. (With advice you probably won’t like if you weren’t offended by those two questions.)