Maybe it’s just that spring awakens my optimism, but I am renewed in my conviction that we can improve philosophy for everyone. Let us proceed with an explicit commitment to holding that retaining and recruiting women and minorities is not a mystery, or rocket science, or magic.
I say this partly because a colleague in philosophy recently asked for “anything useful to a department looking for best practices for recruiting and retaining women undergrads to a major – any major.” I liked the way she put that, because why would we look to philosophy, right? Scholars in other departments have already done what philosophers still struggle to do. So I sent her examples from Physics, from Computer Science, and from Dartmouth’s Women in Science program (involving science, math, and engineering). There are more like these, many sources to show that whenever a field or department really commits to doing something, they succeed. What doesn’t work is waiting for improvement to happen on its own.
There are clear patterns in all the success stories. The bulk of a department has to agree that recruitment is necessary and desirable, and there has to be a wide and deep cultural commitment to it. Outreach has to occur before the students get to higher education. And the intro class comes up in EVERY study. Philosophers can do this. We don’t have to have an “intro-major cliff.” Faculty commitment. Early outreach. Intro class.