Diversity Reading List: Three Birds with One Stone

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

This post is part of a series of Organisation Spotlights. We aim to use these to showcase the work of other organisations in philosophy who are also working towards improving our discipline. If you'd like to write something about your group or organisation, or you have any other questions, drop us an email at mapforthegap.uk@gmail.com.

Everybody knows that philosophy has a bit of a diversity problem and most of us probably agree that we should do something. At Diversity Reading List, we found one such ‘something’ we can do: we make it easier for lecturers to diversify their syllabi.

We know that the issue of under-representation begins at the undergraduate level. The students quickly learn to perceive a stereotypical philosopher as a white guy, because that is what they see. After all, most of their lecturers are white males, as are the authors of most texts on their reading lists. From Year 1, students who are not white or not male are surrounded by more and less subtle cues that philosophy isn't really for the like of them. Is it any wonder that they don't stick around?

This is where the DRL steps in: we try to make it more likely that students will experience a bit more diversity in their time studying philosophy. We do that by creating a large database of texts written by authors from under-represented groups, all accompanied by some thoughts on why they are good for teaching. This makes it easier for the lecturers to find them and include them in their syllabi. So when you start Year 1 Philosophy, you’ll look at your reading lists and say: ‘these philosophers seem like a pretty diverse bunch, maybe I could be one of them, too!’

So far so good, but as with many such projects the problems start when you get beyond what you want to do, and start thinking about how you will actually do it. Basically, creating this database takes a lot of time and effort. With the help of our amazing volunteers and thanks to some generous funding, we managed to go quite far – but we also discovered something in the process. And here is where we have a heart-warming tale for you.

A number of our volunteers, mainly PhD students and early career academics, went to their universities saying: ‘There’s this project, it’s good for us and it’s good for the world. Would you fund us to work on it?’

And they said yes.

Well, ok, it was a bit more complicated than that, but that is essentially the gist of it. The Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds and Sheffield, when approached for funding which would pay their own students or staff to contribute to the DRL, all said yes. And that happened at multiple levels, with funding coming from departments, schools or research centres, but also from dedicated support units that offer grants aimed to promote teaching excellence, innovation, and professional development. We were all surprised how willing our institutions were to help us.

How did that happen? Well, it turns out that universities are often happy to fund their own students and early career staff to engage in professional development projects. Moreover, they are increasingly striving towards promoting equality and diversity – in fact, many are trying to earn an Athena Swan award which likely involves attempts at curriculum diversification. The DRL offers universities a perfect opportunity to do both those things at once: collaborating with us gives them a chance to be part of a successful diversity initiative, and gives their staff and students useful experience. By the way, we will happily mention their generosity at every occasion!

And so, many in the DRL team ended up killing three birds with one stone. They contributed to making philosophy a more equal and diverse discipline, they added a successful grant project to their CVs, and they got paid.

I am very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with people involved in MAP now. I hope that it will lead to many more such stories, and more people finding that their institutions will support them to work with us on making philosophy better. After all, many of you will be in a particularly good position to ask for it! If your university already has a MAP chapter, it already recognises that this is an important issue which deserves attention and funding. You already have a way in. And if you’d like to start one, you can make your case stronger if you have a cross-institution collaborative project already lined up.

Speaking of which – it is thanks to MAP connections and the generous funding of the White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities, that we will be able to lead a joint MAP-DRL workshop diversifying and decolonising the curriculum in November. We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Simon Fokt splits his work between research in aesthetics and the design of online courses and education resources. His research focuses on art classification, ontology, aesthetic properties, and the borderlines of aesthetics: pornography, comics and computer games. Committed to promoting equality in the academia, he manages the Diversity Reading List in Philosophy. He is involved in the production and delivery of five MOOCs, including Introduction to Philosophy and Intellectual Humility, and promotion of free education.

Pronouns: he, his.

The Diversity Reading List website is here. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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