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.
A previous post on the Southampton chapter can be found here.
In the summer of 2018, the St Andrews and Stirling MAP chapter came to life. If you have been around St Andrews and Stirling, you have probably noticed that our Philosophy community is quite active, there’s always something happening: a reading group, a work-in-progress session, a seminar, a talk by an invited speaker, etc. When it came to discussions of inclusivity, diversity and equality, this was not an exception. Great initiatives were being organised. For instance, the St Andrews Society for Women and Minorities in Philosophy held, in Fall 2017, a Women in Philosophy panel. That same semester, a Mentoring Scheme specifically aimed at undergraduate students that identify as members of an underrepresented group in Philosophy started running (created by Lisa Bastian and Quan Nguyen). So, definitely, things were happening.
However, it also became evident that some of us were becoming restless: we were eager to make more things happen. ‘But, why?’ you might wonder. Well, if you’ve been around St Andrews and Stirling, you might have noticed as well that our community, although vibrant and active, is not exactly the most diverse. Moreover, many had the impression that the postgraduate programme had become synonymous with competitiveness. This, of course, had an impact in some members of our community who were feeling alienated and out of place.
In Spring 2018, one of our members proposed mirroring ‘Just theorising’, an initiative organised by the postgraduate community of the Sheffield Philosophy department. With this proposal in mind, we met to discuss what else we could do. One thing that immediately occurred to us was to form a MAP chapter of the St Andrews and Stirling programme, and consolidate the many ideas, initiatives and activities that were already taking place.
The greatest challenge we faced (and still face) is the particular structure of our programme. As I’m sure you can tell by the name, the St Andrews and Stirling Philosophy Graduate Programme (SASP) is a joint programme between St Andrews and Stirling. Thus, it is based in two different universities, two different philosophy departments, each with their own community and culture. It is also linked to two different undergraduate communities. In addition, most of the postgraduate community lives in St Andrews (although some are scattered around Dundee, Edinburgh and Stirling). Adapting to the structure of the programme is, for us, a work-in-progress. We started by naming representatives at each academic level and from both universities (i.e. Research Postgraduate Rep, Taught Postgraduate Rep, Stirling Undergrad Rep and St Andrews Undergrad Rep). This way we can be certain that there is at least one student from each level taking part in the MAP committee. We have also involved faculty members from both departments, and have participated in departmental meetings at both universities. Finally, we try our best to organise activities in both universities and to reach out to both undergrad communities.
At the beginning, while some of us felt that the climate of the programme could be improved, it was not clear that most students shared this feeling. For this reason, we set out to find out which were the issues we faced as a community. With this in mind, we ran a climate survey and organised meetings with both departments. The results of the survey made things clearer, not only for us, but for faculty members. It became evident that, although our climate was okay, there were certain issues that needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
It became clear that one urgent matter was strengthening our sense of community and ensuring that each student felt that they belonged in the programme. To address this, we organised the fortnightly MAP lunch that aims at fighting isolation in the community (ran by Xintong Wei and me). We also requested our departments to allow us to involve further in meetings and committees. This gives us the opportunity to influence the life of the department in the long run. As part of this, a couple of our members have been invited to the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee of the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies of the University of St Andrews.
After the survey, it also became evident that many key notions useful to address the diversity problem in academic Philosophy remained unclear within our community. For this reason, we also organised a monthly MAP discussion group (firstly ran by Lia Nordmann and by Natalie Craw) where we’ve talked about various topics, such as lookism, social defeat, consent, among others. Many of our other activities have also been aimed at this, i.e. at creating a space for discussion of topics that are relevant to the diversification of Philosophy. Last year we organised the workshop ‘Creating Inclusive Classrooms’ (organised by Clotilde Torregrossa and Eline Gerritsen in collaboration with the Diversity Reading List (you can learn more about their initiative here https://diversityreadinglist.org/)), the discussion panel ‘Race, Ethnicity and Language in Academia’ (organised by Kirsty Hardwick and Sophia Rommel), and the summer workshop ‘Silencing, Prejudice and Resistance’ (organised by Xintong Wei and me).
Our first year turned out to be extremely fruitful. As I said, we’re part of an active and vibrant community and we’ve tried to make the most out of this. We began this academic year by participating in the induction events organised by the postgraduate programme. We continue organising our fortnightly lunches and monthly discussion groups. We’re running the mentoring programme at both universities this year as well. We’ve also launched a school-wide Diversity Film Night, an initiative that aims at bringing our community closer to the postgraduate communities of Film Studies and Social Anthropology in St Andrews. We also have exciting plans for the future. Next semester, among other things, we’ll start a Feminist Philosophy Reading Group that will meet monthly. We’ll also continue discussing how we can diversify our classrooms.
Thanks to everyone in the MAP-SASP team, specially to Eline Gerritsen, Clotilde Torregrossa and Xintong Wei for their helpful comments to this post.
Jimena Clavel is a PhD student at the St Andrews and Stirling Graduate programme in Philosophy (SASP)