This post is part of a series of short pieces on MAP chapters across the UK. We hope that by sharing experiences about running and maintaining chapters, we can help make the processes easier and more transparent for the rest of us. If you'd like to write something about your MAP chapter, or you have any other questions, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAP Southampton’s chapter has been active since 2016. This spotlight will focus on the challenges it faced being set-up, and that stem from being a MAP chapter in a small philosophy department.
I’ll begin with how the Southampton chapter came about.
I was in the first year of my PhD when I first tried to set up a MAP chapter at Southampton. A group of us had just successfully organised the 2015 BPPA (British Postgraduate Philosophy Association) conference, and I’d been in charge of organising the careers day at the end of it. There’d been Women In Philosophy talks at similar events before, and it was important to us to include something along the same lines of promoting diversity in philosophy. After asking around, I ended up booking Sophie Stammers, Director (at the time) of MAP UK, to give a talk on MAP and the challenges that face members of underrepresented groups in philosophy.
The talk went really well, and it inspired me to try to form a MAP chapter at our university. It was great to hear about people trying to understand and break down the barriers that disproportionately affect members of underrepresented groups in the discipline, and I wanted to do my part. But then I failed.
There were maybe a dozen (or fewer!) PhD students at the time, and I couldn’t persuade more than one person to sign up with me, so I gave up. A few people were interested but graduating, a few more were interested but didn’t have the time, and a few more than that weren’t interested at all. At least one person wanted to help but didn’t belong to any groups that were even close to being underrepresented in the discipline, and on those grounds didn’t feel comfortable representing them.
A year and a bit passed and more students joined the university. Impatient with myself, I eventually ‘overcame’ the problem by ignoring it. I sent out a call for help and signed up anyway, with just three names on the list: myself, Sophie Keeling and Fionn O’Donovan.
Luckily for me (and the chapter), as soon as we actually formed we started to grow. Committing to helping start up a new chapter was a big ask, but after we formed then more people appeared out of the woodwork to help us organise events, to share experiences, and to make plans. We organised lunches and coffee afternoons, we sat in board meetings, and we started a mildly successful twitter account, which we still use to promote and celebrate the successes of our postgrads, among other things.
We tried to combat the small size of our postgraduate community by focusing on two areas in particular. Firstly, our postgraduate community may have been pretty un-diverse in some ways, but we did represent a relatively large number of neuro-diverse students. We did what we could to embrace this fact, and Sophie Keeling organised a particularly successful mental health coffee afternoon to share experiences and make plans. A number of great initiatives came out of this – we made plans to lobby the university for better access to services like counselling, and we started hosting a “well-being lunch”: a weekly get-together for postgraduates and staff alike. This ensured that there’s always a regular space to share problems that we might face, and that might particularly affect those of us struggling with our mental health.
Secondly, we focused on reaching out to the undergraduates. Although the postgraduate community is fairly small, the undergraduates are a much larger group, and so it felt like there was more we could do to break down the barriers for them than for us. We established a MAP presence in inductions at the beginning of the year, and liaised with the undergraduate Philosophy Society about things like film screenings and guest speakers.
By the time Sophie and I left the university a month ago there were half a dozen others to take our place. I hope that the Southampton chapter continues to thrive!
Lizzy Ventham has just finished her PhD at Southampton University, and is currently a Teaching Fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Follow her on Twitter here.