So You Want To Be Inclusive

A reader is asking for guidance on creating inclusive events.  Their problem?  Not every attempt to be inclusive works.  So for those with experience, what strategies have proven reliable?  What can you do if your ideal conference line-up all decline the invitation?  What do you say if the colleague organizing this year’s colloquium series has pulled together a rather marginalizing list, despite your suggestions?  How do you translate the aspiration to be inclusive into actual inclusion?

A female colleague recently reached out to me about a lack of inclusivity in an academic setting. This got us talking about a variety of things. One thing was strategies for making conference/colloquium schedules more inclusive. I asked her for advice about this. She recommended that I reach out to you (all).

Context: We were talking about how there are a variety of ways in which even progressive departments and conferences (i.e., ones run by progressive people) fail to be inclusive. E.g., one otherwise inclusive department’s colloquium schedule does not feature any non-white non-male (etc.) speakers.

My own experience: Some of my attempts to be inclusive don’t pan out. And many of my second, third, etc. attempts don’t pan out either. In the moment, I felt like I am going out of my way to be inclusive and somehow not succeeding — I am sure there was more to it than this, as will become clear in a moment.

I am interested in brainstorming ways to be inclusive when putting together, say, conferences and colloquium schedules: anything that involves inviting scholars to participate in something, really. I have searched through this blog and gathered some ideas — I particularly enjoyed reading “I Dreamt Of An Inclusive Conference,” by the way. One idea is for conferences to be held online, eliminating some of the difficulties associated with attending a conference and thereby making it easier for people who might not otherwise be able to participate. Still, I imagine that there are all sorts of things that have not even occurred to me. (And in my more anxious moments, I worry about how I might be clueless to the fact that I am the (or part of the) problem).

Any guidance/correction/resources/etc. would be very much appreciated.

It seems to me that there are at least four separate stages worth considering:

  1. How are conference funds and organizing duties distributed within a department?  Who is making invitation decisions?  Are they responsive to criticism?
  2. If you have the opportunity to organize an event yourself, how should a desire to be inclusive affect the planning stages: the conception of the topic, the kind of event and how it will convene, the keynote selection, etc.?
  3. Once the event is in the works, how do you ensure representative participation?  Where and how do you advertise the CFA/CFP?  How are you evaluating the submissions you get?  Where and how do you announce the event to encourage outside attendance?  Should you engage in outreach?  Should some funds be reserved to facilitate attendance by those for whom attendance is difficult?
  4. As the event approaches, and as it’s underway, what should you do (and what resources should you set aside) to ensure that attendees are able to participate fully?  What instructions should chairs be given on managing the queue?  What can you do if the tenor of Q&A or discussion turns exclusive?

And a difficult question raised by the reader’s concern: what constitutes a good faith effort?  What should you do if attempts to be inclusive fail?  Can you reach a point where you’ve done all you can?

Thoughts?  Suggestions?

Dealing with gender/topic biases in teaching evaluations

A reader solicits practical strategies for facilitating the sensible institutional interpretation of student evaluations of teaching, given the empirically well-founded worry (as was noted on this blog recently) that such evaluations express a substantial bias against women instructors.

Hello wonderful community of feminist philosophers, I’m hoping that you can help me with a problem that is not just mine but is one that so many of us share. This is the problem of teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations as a method of assessing teaching leave much to be desired. However, their use becomes even more problematic or worrisome when (as in my case) they are used as one of three main criteria for annual departmental evaluations and promotion.

There is good evidence to show that anonymous course/teaching evaluations are biased against women and a number of other underrepresented groups. Most recently, there is this study. But in addition to evaluations being generally biased against women, I’m facing the additional issue: namely, in all of my courses I include a good deal of feminist and critical race theory. Having recently read my course evaluations, I noticed that a good number of my students reacted negatively to this material. For example, there were many comments that spoke to the “problem” of so much feminist philosophy, about how I’m trying to “indoctrinate them,” and about how if they didn’t simply agree with my (feminist) positions then I would give them low grades. Of course, all of these claims are false but nonetheless I am worried about their presence. It seems that on the basis of the content of my courses (in addition to the gender bias), my evaluations are importantly lower than those of others (and for reasons that have nothing to do with my actual teaching abilities).

So I’m wondering whether and how people in other departments have dealt with this problem. I’m pretty certain that my institution (big, public university) is committed to keeping them, so abolition is not on the table at this point. Still, I wonder if there is any way to take into account these known biases so that certain groups of people are not systematically disadvantaged. Have any departments tried other methods of assessing teaching either instead of or in addition to the required ones? Even though my university probably isn’t going to stop using teaching evaluations any time soon, it is possible that my department might be persuaded to use a different method of assessing teaching when it comes to departmental annual merit reviews (or at the very least, supplementing the university required teaching evaluations with some other methods).

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

Kate Manne on misogyny

Kate Manne is the first early-career researcher interviewed over at the APA Blog.  I found it an especially fascinating interview because her views on misogyny are so interesting. I have always, in an inchoate way, felt uncomfortable with the term and generally avoided using it.  I think she puts her finger on the source of discomfort by pointing out a problem with how it’s generally understood.

I was so frustrated with what commentators were saying about misogyny—that it had to be hatred directed at women as a class, harbored deep in the heart of an individual misogynist. But that makes no sense of misogyny as a political phenomenon.

My first basic thought was, what would we expect misogyny to be, understood as the most hostile and toxic manifestation of patriarchal ideology? Not a uniform hatred of women, surely. Patriarchal social structures, in conjunction with the ideology that governs them, work to make women into men’s deferential, attentive social subordinates, and to mask many of the forms of dominance and power which men have over women. Patriarchal social relations are designed to look as amicable and seamless as possible, in other words. So why would even the least enlightened of men within a patriarchal culture be hostile towards women across the board, or as a social class in its entirety? We might expect him to have a low opinion of women’s capacities in masculine-coded arenas, say (which I think of as being sexist). But having a low opinion of someone is one thing; being hostile toward them, quite another. Women will often be far too pleasant and convenient to have around to be an object of his hatred, at least when things are going smoothly.

I’m really looking forward to her book laying out an alternative theory.


There’s also a nice discussion of uncertainty about one’s own views.

So…I wonder and question myself a lot about this. Maybe it doesn’t matter though. Sometimes I find myself thinking—look, I’m probably wrong to believe p, given all the amazingly smart people who disagree with me. But, in the unlikely event I am right that p, it’s not completely absurd to think that I might be among the group of people who would have the hunch that p. So it might be better to throw caution to the wind, make the argument that holds as best I can, and then let other people correct my probable mistakes. Being willing to stand corrected is such a big part of good intellectual character, I think. But it can be hard to cultivate that skill when you are also trying as hard as you can to be honest and self-critical in your thinking. I wonder how many other people might have some version of this “I’m probably wrong, but, just maybe…” thought when they find themselves with some weird view, especially early on in their careers.

I, personally, tend to spend a lot of time telling myself that being wrong in a clear and interesting way is actually useful, and advances the debate.  Which allows me enough calm to get the work done and send the paper off.  I’ve long ago given up on the goal of arriving at a settled view that I’m confident of.


Naomi Zack “neither thrilled nor honored” by King award

I know that those who receive this award say they are honored and thrilled. My situation at the University of Oregon complicates my reaction. I was hired as a full professor with tenure in 2001. While I have African ancestry, I identify as multi-racial. At present, there are no full professors who identify as African American or Black in the entire UO College of Arts and Sciences. But I am a woman of color. At present there are only two full professors who are women of color throughout the entire University of Oregon. I am one of them. Given this situation, I am neither thrilled nor honored to receive an award in the name of Martin Luther King at this time, here at the UO.

I am embarrassed.

For the rest of Zack’s remarks, go to the Daily Nous.

Dialogues on Disability – Andrea Nicki

The latest instalment of Shelley Tremain’s excellent series of interviews was published yesterday, over at Discrimination and Disadvantage. This time, she interviews Andrea Nicki, who talks about chronic childhood abuse, its effects, and the many problems with its conceptualization and treatment by mainstream psychiatry. She also talks about the difficulties she has experienced doing philosophical work in this area; the discipline’s poor record on inclusivity with respect to psychological disability; and much more.

My guest today is Andrea Nicki. Andrea specializes in feminist philosophy, philosophy of psychological disability, and mental health ethics. She has published two collections of her poetry with Toronto presses. Her poetry explores social issues, including philosophy of disability and her other research interests. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

You can read the complete interview here.

Thanks to Andrea and Shelley for this interview – another piece of required reading for anyone working in academic philosophy, and beyond.