Diversifying Syllabi

This is cool:

The Georgetown‘s Women in Philosophy Climate Coalition (GWPCC) is pleased to announce the launch of a new website, “Diversifying Syllabi” compiling an annotated bibliography of philosophical texts by diverse philosophers, appropriate for teaching in undergraduate courses. The website includes a reading list with text summaries and teaching tips.

We welcome others to join in this initiative by sending in suggestions for additions to the reading list and resources for teaching these texts.

To visit the site, go to http://diversifyingsyllabi.weebly.com

(The website grew out of a summer workshop for Georgetown graduate students that the GWPCC and philosophy department sponsored, “Diversifying Syllabi 101” where we read and discussed papers written by diverse philosophers and discussed pedagogical strategies for incorporating the texts in our own teaching.)

20 thoughts on “Diversifying Syllabi

  1. Reblogged this on Empathic Philosophy Engineer and commented:
    “Given that increasing diversity in the profession is essential to the continuing relevance and vibrancy of Philosophy; and given that one of the apparent barriers to diversity is the lack of diverse philosophers included in Introductory courses; and given that the lack of diverse philosophers in most Intro syllabi is likely caused by lack of familiarity with this work rather than lack of good will; The Graduate Student group Georgetown’s Women in Philosophy Climate Coalition sponsored a summer reading group of work by diverse philosophers. We read selections from various authors appropriate (in terms of topic, level of difficulty, and length) for Intro level courses.

    “Our aims were:
    1) to increase familiarity with texts by diverse philosophers and to think about their potential pedagogical uses so they can easily be incorporated into our teaching;
    2) to do this in a supportive, informal and relaxed setting;
    3) to eventually create an online resource for the profession in the form of an annotated bibliography.

    “This website fulfills our third goal.”

  2. A “lack of diverse philosophers” — especially on any medium to large faculty — is a much greater “barrier to diversity” than the lack of diversity in syllabi for introductory courses.

  3. Yes, obviously — but that doesn’t mean that diversity on syllabi isn’t also important, nor that this site isn’t a useful resource.

  4. Perhaps not obviously, at least re people of color, the notion that syllabi diversity is important — when promulgated by faculties lacking such diversity — can create cognitive dissonance.

  5. So far, these resources are not all that useful. They include only a small number of the most prominent non-white male philosophers working in primarily mainstream Anglophone traditions into it. What about Nancy Fraser, Seyla Benhabib, Linda Martin Alcoff, Georgia Warnke who work in critical theory and continental traditions or Tommie Shelby, Robert Gooding-Williams, K. Anthony Appiah….?

  6. Virginia, please note: “We welcome others to join in this initiative by sending in suggestions for additions to the reading list and resources for teaching these texts.”

    I would likewise encourage you to send in suggestions!

  7. I’m not sure whether anon #2/4 is correct about the point. But whether or not they’re correct, it would seem that the issues go hand-in-hand. There can be a cognitive dissonance when “non-diverse” people try to teach diverse ideas. But there can also be a symmetrical one when a diverse department teaches the same old white male, Western philosophy that the all-white male departments teach. It seems that they’re issues that folks should work on simultaneously.

  8. MD, are there actual examples of “a diverse department” in philosophy, re people of color, only teaching “the same old” you describe? I’m unaware of them: the handful of departments I know of fitting that diversity profile don’t teach in that manner. As for my claims at #2 and #5, I was relying on common sense, personal experience, and anecdotal reports about the importance of faculty diversity re students of color.

  9. Anon’ — I’m not sure what you’re calling for here. If it is that we should have more diverse faculty, I’m guessing you’re preaching to the choir around here. And I doubt that the Georgetown students or anyone here thinks that diversifying the syllabi stands in for diversifying the faculty.

    So are you suggesting that the cognitive dissonance of diverse syllabi is so strong that, pending fully diverse faculty, we should -purposefully- keep the syllabi non-diverse? (I’d have thought things would go otherwise, since I’d have thought cognitive dissonance could yield student introspection.)

  10. or Tommie Shelby, Robert Gooding-Williams, K. Anthony Appiah….?

    I know Gooding-Williams work less well than I know that of Shelby or Appiah, but both Shelby and Appiah do lots of work that is quite plausibly part of the “mainstream Anglophone tradition” of moral and political philosophy. At the least, they are regularly published by top journals and presses that fit in this area, and cited by people (like me!) who see themselves as working roughly in this area. (I’m actually hoping to read more of Gooding-Williams, especially on Du Bois, but for time reasons have not has as much chance as I’d like yet. The main point, though, is that, at least for people of my generation, Shelby and Appiah are completely part of “mainstream” philosophy, paradigm establishment figures, even.

  11. @ anon grad student: I’m not “calling for” anything. Nor do I know why you’d guess I’m “preaching to the choir” re underrepresented faculty of color in one’s own department.

    Maybe I’d suggest that departments conspicuously lacking underrepresented faculty of color be low key (i.e., internal) with their “diversifying syllabi” efforts. Otherwise, such efforts can give the appearance of posturing. This is not incompatible with faculty members quietly diversifying their syllabi.

    I’d maybe also suggest that a group focused on women should specify diversity efforts focused on women (like the GCC). This would help to avoid giving off the “and minorities” afterthought vibe — especially in departments conspicuously lacking underrepresented faculty of color.

  12. anon’, I’m extremely uncomfortable with those suggestions. One serious criticism of mainstream academic feminism is that it has been historically overly concerned with the protection of the interests of white women, when we cannot achieve equality qua women without likewise achieving equality for women of color. Efforts aimed at increasing diversity, broadly construed, are essential to achieving equity for women in particular, and justice more generally.

    Being public about these efforts is one way to assist others in taking the same steps you have (and the resources here are incredibly useful to that end) — among other good things.

    I am really thankful to the graduate students who put this together.

  13. I think the commenters here stand to learn more by listening to anon’ than by trying to argue with them. They don’t need me to speak for them, but reread their posts in order. (2, 5, 10, and 13) They are not primarily about specific criticisms or alternatives as much as dissatisfaction with the project. One can agree that it’s better to do the project than not, and even that it’s better to advertise the project, but still find it inadequate and worry that many will regard it as an easy substitute for more essential forms of change.

    Imagine that we are all first year college students forced to take a remedial writing class because we aren’t yet prepared for college level work. Now suppose the best students in the class take the initiative to compile a list of writing tips for the rest of class. We, and our teachers, might want to praise those students for their efforts. But it would be important to make sure that we all knew that we still weren’t ready for our first college writing class. These tips are good for the level we’re at, but they aren’t enough to get us where we want to be.

    Although there are limits to this analogy, efforts to improve diversity in philosophy are literally remedial efforts. The work of these graduate students is praiseworthy, but that’s only because the bar is so low to begin with. If these efforts are going to be part of a larger process of meaningful change, we should be dissatisfied too.

  14. philodaria, I’m confident that my suggestions were informed by much thought, observation, and experience, along with a good awareness of developments in feminism.

    I stand by my concerns. Your response amplifies them. I’m experiencing that response as a type of splaining. But thank you for letting me share my concerns. I’ll add nothing more.

  15. Derek, I’ve had similar worries in a fairly different context, but I’m not sure they are well placed. My worries have been about substituting changes in speech for substantive changes. The thing I’ve come to think is that such changes can really make a big difference. Similarly, changes in Intro biblio may lead to consequences in expectations that we can’t foresee easily.

    That said, I would worry that more conservative members of a department will make very disparaging remarks that create a lot of tensions and confusions.

  16. One of the Georgetown students here! Thanks all for your comments and interest in the project. We definitely don’t believe that diversifying syllabi is the only (or even the most important) way to address the lack of diversity in Philosophy. But it is something, and it is something that we felt we could help with given our status as graduate students and teachers.

    And we are very, very happy to accept more reading recommendations. The text summaries are generated through our summer reading group, so we won’t get more of those up until next summer. But we can post your suggestions online now! You can send them to GUClimateCoalition@gmail.com or use the submission form on the website.

  17. Anne,

    My point is that one can think those worries are well-placed in both cases while still accepting everything else you say, and everything that has been said in support of this (I agree, laudable) effort by the Georgetown grad students.

    I agree that changes in how we speak, changes in who appears on our syllabus, and changes in classroom techniques can make big differences, that they are worth doing, and that they are worth encouraging. But we should at the same time be on guard against being too quickly satisfied with ourselves and one another because of such efforts and against others who might be tempted to follow these examples and think of themselves as having done enough.

    I think anon’s central dissatisfaction is well-placed and that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that diversifying syllabi, however worthwhile, is no substitute for actually diversifying our faculty.

  18. To be clear — I agree completely that merely diversifying syllabi is only one small step towards taking appropriate remedial actions. I also think that when actions like this are taken by those who seem uninterested in taking other opportunities towards progress seriously can be undermining, hurtful, and problematic. I also agree that there is a danger of being inappropriately satisfied with ourselves after taking small and insufficient steps because at least we have done something.

    What I am uncomfortable with is separating concerns for improving diversity with respect to gender from concerns for improving diversity with respect to race, cultural background, or marginalized modes of philosophical inquiry. Another one of my concerns is that *every* philosophy department is conspicuously lacking in diversity. The bar of what is “normal” in philosophy departments is so low that even the best among us must do better, I think — and yet I think it will be very difficult for us to do better unless we can share ideas across departments.

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