Philosophy and the Struggle Against Racism

The philosophy department's commitment to social justice and to working towards a better future.

Posted by Amie Thomasson, Philosophy Chair, December 15, 2021

Progress Update from the Chair

In the statement from the chairs of July 17, 2020, we pledged to work on making Philosophy at Dartmouth more inclusive, working to serve as allies in the struggle against racism.

Here, as promised, we update our progress since then.

  1. Curriculum:
  • Given the expertise of our new visiting lecturer Esther Rosario, this year we are offering courses on The Historical Philosophy of W. E. B. DuBois (PHIL 1.13) and (for the first time ever) The Metaphysics of Race (PHIL 31.xy). We are also offering a number of other courses this academic year, relevant to issues of race, gender and social justice, including: Identity, Liberalism, and Democracy (PHIL 1.19), Philosophy and Gender (PHIL 4), Race, Justice and the Law (Phil 38.03), and Propaganda (PHIL 50.36).
  • Philosophy faculty continue to work on diversifying their syllabi for other courses, both with respect to authors and content. Courses from God, Darwin and Cosmos (PHIL 1.04), to Phenomenology and Existentialism (PHIL 28), to Realism and Anti-Realism (PHIL 31.04), now include a more diverse set of authors and address issues relevant to race.
  • To help continue these curricular efforts, with the help of ACLS Emerging Voices Fellow Adebayo Oluwayomi, we hosted a workshop for faculty (in philosophy and beyond) on November 12, 2021 entitled "Teaching Philosophy in a Changing World: A Workshop on Diversifying the Philosophy Curriculum," featuring guest speakers Andrew Soto, Daitso Ruwe, and Kelisha Graves. We are grateful to the Leslie Center for the Humanities for co-sponsoring this event.
  1. Programming:
  • The first annual Race, Gender and Justice Workshop was held on April 30, 2021. Dr. Derrick Darby, Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University, and Dr. Christian Davenport, Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, conducted a live recording of their podcast "A Pod Called Quest," followed by a question-and-answer session. The topic of the podcast was the nature, practice and responsibilities of student social justice activism, considered from both a philosophical and an empirical perspective. Given the Covid restrictions at the time, the event took place over zoom. Over 40 students and faculty attended, and the discussion was lively.
  • The second annual Race, Gender and Justice Workshop will be held on April 7-8, 2022, and is planned as an in-person event. Our confirmed speakers are Tina Botts (Visiting Scholar, Dartmouth College): "Is the U.S. Constitution an Anti-Racist Document?"; Catherine Clune-Taylor (Princeton University): "Covid-19 Anti-Vaxxers, White Supremacist Suicidality and Racialized 'Risk'"; Adebayo Oluwayomi (Texas A&M University ): TBA; Ayanna Spencer (University of Connecticut): "Contested Self-Defense and Criminalized Black Survivors: On Burdens-Based Epistemic Oppression." Other participants include Yarran Hominh (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow) and Esther Rosario (Lecturer). The event will include undergraduate presentations, and a panel discussion on how philosophy can make a difference to pressing issues of injustice. We are grateful to the Leslie Center for the Humanities for co-sponsoring this year's event.
  • Our first in-person colloquium since Covid was held on September 27, 2021. To broaden our outreach to non-Western philosophy, the topic was "Believing in Dao"  by Chad Hansen, Chair Professor of Chinese Philosophy (emeritus), University of Hong Kong. We are grateful to the Department of Religion for co-sponsoring this colloquium.
  1. Student Fellowships:
  • We began awarding Student Social Justice Research Grants in Spring of 2021, and we have so far made nine awards. These have enabled Dartmouth undergraduates to do independent research on topics ranging from water governance on indigenous lands, to the relation between anti-discrimination law and affirmative action and reparations, to climate justice and global inequalities. For a full list of projects, please visit this site. Given the high demand and interest in this program, we hope to continue it at least through 2022.
  1. Faculty:
  • We hired Esther Rosario as a visiting lecturer for Academic Year 2021-22. Professor Rosario has research and teaching interests in philosophy of race and gender.
  • We also have been pleased to welcome Yarran Hominh as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, whose areas of specialization include social and political philosophy and philosophy of race.
  • We have advertised for and hope this year to hire our first Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy of Race, African-American Political Thought, or Africana Philosophy. We are grateful to Samuel Levey, Dean of Arts and Humanities, for the opportunity to host this postdoctoral fellow.
  • During academic year 20-21 we undertook a joint search with Government for a candidate working in social and political philosophy, with particular interest in African-American political thought and philosophical issues related to race. We made an offer to an outstanding candidate, who unfortunately for us, ultimately accepted an offer at another institution.

We are grateful to all those who have helped make these changes possible, including the Leslie Center for the Humanities for co-sponsoring events, and Professors Kulvicki, Lewis, and Thomas, who have served as the department's Social Justice Committee. We know the work is far from done, but hope to be able to build on these steps to continue towards a more inclusive future for philosophy at Dartmouth, with an eye also to the impact philosophy can have on the world. 

Posted by Amie Thomasson and Samuel Levey on July 17, 2020

Statement from the Chairs

As the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, and countless other members of the Black community by police and self-styled vigilantes brutally remind us, anti-Black racism, oppression, and violence in the United States remain terrible forces of destruction today. They are a scourge on our society, felt most acutely by Black communities, whose members already endure a legacy of significant and disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration, morbidity, and premature death.

Alongside anti-Black racism are kindred injustices on the basis of race, class, ethnicity, migration status, disability, sexuality, gender identity, and their intersections. The mechanisms of racism and oppression are systemic, and we all owe a responsibility to see that they are exposed and rooted out.

We believe that philosophy offers powerful tools for addressing issues of justice, morality, equality, identity, truth, power, law, democracy, race and intersectionality, among others. But philosophy also reflects the legacy of privilege, oppression, and systemic racism. It is one of the whitest disciplines within the humanities.[1] By recent estimates, just 5% of philosophy bachelor's degree recipients, 3% of philosophy PhD recipients,[2] and 4.3% of tenured philosophy professors in the US are Black.[3],[4] Among members of the American Philosophical Association surveyed in 2018, just 8.8% self-identify as either Black/African-American (2.8%), American Indian/Alaska native (1%), or Hispanic/Latinx (5%).[5] All those groups are under-represented in philosophy compared to the US general population.[6]

The professional philosophical voices students hear at Dartmouth also are predominantly white voices, both in the classroom and on the page. We can do better to diversify our philosophical community and curriculum and to contribute to the struggle against racism.

To this end the Philosophy Department faculty has unanimously approved a series of changes as steps towards a more inclusive and enlightened study of philosophy at Dartmouth.

  • Curriculum. We commit to enriching our curriculum by including a broader range of voices in our syllabi and by expanding course offerings in order to draw fuller connections with matters of race, gender, class, and other crucial social concerns.
  • Student fellowships. We commit to establishing, in each of the next two years, three Fellowships in Social Justice. These will be reading fellowships for undergraduates in Philosophy to pursue in-depth study in related topics during off-terms. Announcements of these fellowships and the application process for them will be posted to our website and circulated widely to the student community.
  • Faculty. We commit to redoubling our efforts to diversify our faculty. As part of that effort we shall establish a standing committee of our faculty devoted to recruiting philosophers from under-represented and marginalized groups to bring into the Philosophy Department at Dartmouth as visitors, instructors, and permanent members.

We commit to reviewing and reporting on these initiatives on an annual basis as we seek to improve and expand upon them. We will welcome further suggestions for how we can do better, as well as criticism, public and private, of our efforts.

To all those facing ongoing discrimination and violence, we stand with you. To our colleagues, students, and friends across the Dartmouth community, we support you in this difficult time. Our doors, our minds, and our hearts are open.

Sincerely,

Amie Thomasson, Chair of Philosophy (2020-2023)

Samuel Levey, Chair of Philosophy (2017-2020)

                                   

 

Further statements and information

 

Statements by Philosophy organizations:

 

Additional resources on race and demographics in philosophy:

 

Statement and list of resources for students from Dartmouth RMS:

 

Statement from Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon:

 

Statements by members of the Dartmouth Philosophy Department: