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?

HRC’s bathroom break

There was a five minute break in the Democratic Debate on Dec. 22nd. HRC was late in returning, and the debate started without her. That struck me as a bit outrageous, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to think about. Maybe I should have felt differently as the comments by the conservatives started up. But now I can be glad the Huffington Post has done a great job and saved me the effort.

Everything in the article is worth reading. I’m picking out a snippet that seems to me quite rich with observations, and I hope others will want to read more.

The author is Soraya Chemaly:

I write and talk about controversial subjects all the time – violence, rape, race – but I have never received as vitriolic a response as last summer, when I wrote about the disparity in public facilities for men and women, The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Bathroom Lines; it was a piece about norms and knowledge. Angry people mostly men, by the hundreds, wrote to tell me I was vulgar, stupid, ignorant and should learn to stand in order to pee, because it’s superior. It continued for weeks, until I wrote a follow-up piece on the ten most sexist responses.

People may think that women no longer face sexism in media or politics when they speak, but that ignores the very obvious fact that even before women say anything they have already, in split seconds, jumped through hundreds of “what if I said something about sexism” hoops. Can you imagine the backlash and media frenzy if Clinton had actually, in some detail, pointed out that the women’s room was farther away or that there is often, especially at large public events like this debate, a line that women patiently wait in while men flit in and out and makes jokes about women’s vanity? That the microaggressive hostility evident, structurally, in so many of our legacy public spaces is relevant to women every day. “Bathroom codes enforce archaic and institutionalized gender norms,” wrote Princeton students Monica Shi & Amanda Shi about their school’s systemic sexism this year.

The Politics of Sympathy

“Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment. For those who are willing and able, he certainly can use any understanding or support they can offer (this wouldn’t include endorsement of the mistakes he acknowledges in an open letter on his website). I ask that those who have the room for it (now or later), hear him out and judge whether there is room for redemption in all that will transpire.”

That quote is from an email sent out by Geoff Marcy’s department head, in the wake of it being made public that he has been found responsible for sexual misconduct, and that Berkeley decided in lieu of sanctions, to sign an agreement with him about what would happen if he was found responsible again.

Sympathy is complicated. I’m not a moral psychologist, so I won’t pretend to be one — but I am a philosopher who thinks about the way social and political structures can influence our beliefs. And in view of tense and complicated conversations following several cases of issues of discrimination and violence related to members of our professional communities, I haven’t been able to help but think for awhile now about how, like credibility, distributions of sympathy are political.

This seems perfectly predictable, in a certain sense. We’re ready to lend a sympathetic shoulder to our friends. We tend to consider the interests of those in our own social circles more readily than those of others at a distance. Nonetheless, the experience of it can be unexpected. The first time I was ever told that a friend had been sexually assaulted by someone I knew, my reaction was — to me — utterly surprising. Though I knew the wrong-doer, he wasn’t a friend. He wasn’t someone I cared for. The only time I ever spent around him was not of my own choosing, but rather the begrudging result of our having multiple mutual friends. Yet, when I found out that he had assaulted my friend, I found myself absolutely weeping. First, for her – that wasn’t the surprising bit – but then, for him too.

I felt more deeply for him, suddenly, and unexpectedly, than I ever had before I knew what kind of wrong-doing he was capable of. That feeling, I think, was borne out (in part) of the recognition that even in the best of possible futures, there would be no undoing what he had done. If things went as well as they could, given what had already happened, he would recognize the wrongness of his actions, and seek to make what recompense there might be. And how painful would it be to live with that knowledge? How would you cope with knowing that you have irrevocably changed someone’s life by harming them so severely? I also think this was, in part, simply because I knew him.

To be clear, I blamed him. I was angry. I wanted him to be held responsible. At the same time, I felt deep lament and sympathy. My heart ached. I wished that it weren’t true. It didn’t take much reflection to understand a little better why we can be so recalcitrant and resistant in the face of claims to harm against our friends. If I could feel so much sympathy for someone who I didn’t even like, how would I feel had he been a friend? Family?  What would I think, if I didn’t also know the victim, or the extent of the evidence? What if I were his department chair, and he were one of my department’s star researchers? 

All of this is to say, I get it. I can understand how the pull of sympathy might disrupt our priorities in a harmful way. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

Of course it’s fine — perhaps good hearted, even — to feel sympathetic to those among us who have acted wrongly. Sympathy for those who have acted wrongly need not necessarily conflict with an appropriate sense of justice (indeed, I think it can enrich it). But we do need to be careful about what follows. When we’re not so careful, victims can be harmed by the politics of sympathy in many ways. It isn’t news that those who attempt to come forward with allegations against the powerful, well-connected, or socially-established, often find that with friends so well-placed to offer protection and so ready to offer understanding to the perpetrator, evidence simply isn’t enough. Perpetrators may be easy to sympathize with for other reasons (like their gender, being central to a department’s research profile, their interests being closer to our own, their being well-meaning, or sincere). Victims are unjustly harmed when this translates into a resistance to the belief that a perpetrator could be guilty, or results in, once again, concern for victims’  well-being having been sacrificed for the sake of the one who harmed them as we consider the (real or imagined) difficulties that they face while setting the victims’ to the side.

All of this, of course, can be exacerbated by the fact that it’s just easier to look the other way in the first place. As Judith Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

Sympathy can be valuable, but when readiness to feel it is tied up in our social relationships, it will also, inevitably, have a political element — and that’s something we need to be especially careful with in view of the possibility of mistaking our fellow-feeling for evidence of innocence, or when it signals that we prioritize justice and care for the perpetrator over justice and care for their victims. 

It is precisely that prioritizing that is so offensive in the email quoted above. These women who came forward risked their reputations, professional prospects, being subject to public scrutiny, to seek redress for harms they never wanted to be subject to in the first place. The university responded, having found their allegations justified, by doing (roughly speaking) nothing. I am sure Geoff Marcy is having a difficult time right now, and it’s fine to recognize that. But let’s not add insult to injury for his victims.

Yup, definitely being taken over by women

Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.

The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”

How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.

(Thanks, L!)

School-to-prison pipeline isn’t just for boys of color

A recent article in the Guardian picks up on some of the issues about girls of color that were raised in comments on this post. (See here also.) Its focus, however, is on an intersection of problems in schools.

A recent report by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) entitled Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected outlines how girls of color face much harsher school discipline than their white peers but are simultaneously excluded from current efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline. The report states that nationally, black girls are six times more likely to get suspended than their white counterparts. In comparison, black boys are three times more likely to get suspended than their white counterparts.

Despite the statistics, there are no initiatives like the My Brother’s Keeper program – a five-year, $200m program initiated by President Obama to support boys of color – to engage and nurture young women of color. Even though black girls are criminalized and brutalized by the same oppressive system, rarely does their brutalization make national news.

As a first step (for many of us), let’s try to make these problems more visible.

“One Hundred Years of Fortitude”

The post title is also the title the NY Times gives to a piece about Carmen Herrera, one of the six artists who are “A very small sampling of the female artists now in their 70s, 80s and 90s we should have known about decades ago.”  The look at the six women is a wonderful and stunning interactive piece.

Carmen Herrera, 99, a regal Giacometti-thin woman with bone-white hair, could be the poster child for late-in-life recognition. Her work will be included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s much-anticipated show this month, inaugurating its new building at the foot of the High Line. There, a painting of hers — the diptych “Blanco y Verde,” 1959 — will hang for the first time alongside works by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Agnes Martin and Jasper Johns, publicly granting her a status in the canon that — according to curators at several major institutions — should have been hers for years. She will be a centenarian this month. A documentary about her life, “The 100 Years Show,” made its festival premiere in April.

Her painting, Blanco y Verde:


One could weep, but instead let us note that it is time we paid attention to the older women in philosophy who could be considered to be in comparable positions where they are “now in their 70s, 80s and 90s [and] we should have known about decades ago.”

So the first question is: what are the comparable positions?
Maybe next is: what should we do?

A business argument for diversity (& a cartoon)

Not a new argument, but a useful source:

“fooled by Experience”
Soyer, Emre
Hogarth, Robin M.
Harvard Business Review. May2015, Vol. 93 Issue 5, p72-77. 6p.
As Peter Drucker wrote, “The first rule in decision making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.” To devise healthy strategies, executives need to hear many perspectives, including feedback that is critical of their own actions. Executives should surround themselves with people from diverse backgrounds and promote independent thinking in their team. Many executives task certain coworkers, friends, or family members with speaking frankly on important matters.
Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, stresses the importance of building a brain trust, a group of advisers who will deflate egos and voice unpopular opinions. He argues in his September 2008 HBR article that disagreements in meetings end up benefiting everyone in the long run, because “it’s far better to learn about problems from colleagues when there’s still time to fix them than from the audience after it’s too late.”

Also from the same issue of the Harvard Business Review:

A company’s reputation is reliant on the conduct of its employees. Posting “funny” videos of yourself online? What were you thinking?

On Why Cross-Cultural Conversations are Difficult for Philosophers

This paper, “The History That We Are: Philosophy as Discipline and the Multiculturalism Debate,” from Don Howard has been published for some time, but it was only recently put up on — I thought it would be of interest to many of our readers. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

African and Native American thought may have something in common with Greek and Egyptian mythology, with the creation stories like those found in the Gilgamesh or the Book of Genesis. But as we were all taught in our own introductory courses, and as we all now teach our beginning students, philosophy is different in kind from poetry and myth. Born in the Greek settlements of Ionia in the sixth century B.C., philosophy seeks to understand nature, both human and nonhuman, not in terms of the actions of the gods and the giants, but in terms of abstract metaphysical principles . . . and abstract moral principles, like justice and the form of the good. Moreover, philosophy is unlike religion in the antidogmatic, critical posture that Socrates taught us to adopt with respect to all received opinion. And, perhaps most importantly, the philosopher’s characteristic concern with the critical distinction between true knowledge and mere opinion is not to be found in “traditional” or “primitive” systems of thought. Neither poet, nor sophist, nor carping moralist, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom. There may have been a Hesiod among the Tlingit or a Homer among the Hausa, but there has been no African Aristotle and no Plato of the Pueblo, just as there has also been no Zulu Shakespeare, as Saul Bellow is reported to have said.

“African philosophy.”— Not all such appositions strike us as being quite so oxymoronic. For while I speak here—need it be said?—the language of prejudice and stereotype, it is not simply a white, Western prejudice, which would be too easy a target. We do not stumble at the thought of there being an “Indian philosophy” (in the sense of the Indian subcontinent); nor does the expression “Jewish philosophy” give us much pause. The more generous souls among us will permit, as well, the expression, “Chinese philosophy,” though the more anthropological term “Chinese thought” is clearly preferable; and in some quarters one may even be allowed to speak of “Arabic philosophy,” especially if one agrees to confine one’s attention to long and safely dead thinkers like Ibn-Sina and Ibn-Rushd.

Why is this so? Why do the authors of the Vedanta, domesticated by Schopenhauer and Deussen, already have a reservation at the philosophers’ Stammtisch? Why do we so easily imagine ourselves in the heaven for which Socrates yearns in the Phaedo, conversing with Maimonides … as easily as we might converse with Descartes about the soul or with Kant about the categories, whereas it has long been much harder to imagine a properly philosophical conversation with Chuang-tzu about Tao (even before the Tao-te-ching became the New Age bible), much less a conversation with a Navajo hataali about hozro and “walking in beauty”?

That this is so should give us pause when we pretend, as philosophers, to engage in cross-cultural conversations. For the measure of our aversion to expressions like “Native American philosophy” is the measure of our inability, as philosophers, to engage in such conversations, the point being that the felt sense of aversion reflects our having defined ourselves, as philosophers, in such a way as to beg many of the most important questions that should be at issue in those conversations, leaving us, as philosophers, no stance but that of condescension toward those cultures that have failed to evolve a properly philosophical culture.

From another point of view, what is going on here is that cultural boundaries have been inscribed as disciplinary boundaries. Looking out from within a department of philosophy, it is impossible for me, as a philosopher, to talk with the Ibo about their creation stories. That is a job for the anthropologist or the student of comparative religion. We can have a properly philosophical conversation only if we first persuade ourselves, as we succeed in doing in the case of the Vedanta in India, that the culture in question incorporates a genuinely philosophical tradition. But we may well be suspicious—surely it is a clue of sorts—when we find, for example, Louis Renou writing in the Encyclopædia Britannica: “The Vedic religion was brought to India by the Aryan invaders when they invaded the upper Indus basin sometime around 1500 B.C.”

Reflections on trying to organise a panel with more women

Recently, we—Elisa Freschi and Malcolm Keating—set about organizing a panel for the upcoming ATINER panel. We aimed for a panel which would include significant numbers of women, using suggestions from the Gendered Conference Campaign (GCC) published on the Feminist Philosophers website to achieve this goal. Not only is the result an exciting combination of global philosophical interests which can push back against stereotypes of philosophy as a Western activity, its gender ratio can push back against stereotypes of philosophy as a male activity. Our hope is that the more panels and conferences which work to include women, the more women’s names will come to mind as experts in these topics. Further, hopefully younger generations of women will find it easier to find a path in academic philosophy. And finally, including more women who might otherwise be ignored due to implicit bias means better philosophy will be done.

Click here to read their reflections.