Feminists observe with sadness the passing of Nelson Mandela, first Black President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was not entirely successful in his goal of “a society free of all kinds of discrimination, more especially discrimination against women,” but he did preside over South Africa at a time when the nation signed “the U.N Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, in 1993, and ratified it in 1995, something the United States has yet to do.”
Many of us have reflected on the words and actions of Nelson Mandela in writing our philosophical work, so I close with his words: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression… Our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.”
I’ve been a longtime follower of this blog, and have recently found myself in an opportunity to potentially do something about an instance of racism and sexism in my department. However, because I am a first year student working with a well-established professor, I could greatly use some advice from people experienced with dealing with these sorts of issues in academia.
Over the past week, my supervisor invited the students working with him to group sessions to discuss ways in which we could promote collaboration in the department, something he has been investigating practically and theoretically for a number of years. The problem is that, looking around the room, one could not help but notice that all of the half dozen people he surrounds himself with are white men. This surprised me, because he has generally been supportive of feminist and anti-racist scholarship, but of course it should not be that surprising (unfortunately) that this interest does not pan out in practice. That said, as a white male myself, I’m having trouble determining how a professor with an open-door policy and nominally feminist viewpoints is subtly driving away all but a select group of people. I’ve asked women in my department, but they have generally been adverse to discussing this problem fully.
It seems to me that these serious and frank discussions about group work are an ideal moment to discuss the barriers to participation present in this group, but I’m not quite sure what to actually say. The worst part is that people have already commented on the homogeneity of the group, so it’s not that this is an unknown problem.
Do you have any advice for a young graduate student trying to make a small section of the university more hospitable to women and people of color?