Penn State’s Efforts at Diversifying Philosophy


Five black women earned Ph.D.s in philosophy from Penn State this year, according to an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education (currently paywalled) that looks at the efforts the philosophy department there has been making to diversify philosophy.

The Chronicle reports that:

According to the latest federal data, of the 370 American citizens and permanent residents who earned Ph.D.s in philosophy and ethics in 2014, just 15, or 4 percent, were African-American. Of philosophy doctoral recipients overall, less than one-third were women. Only one other humanities field, music theory and composition, had a lower proportion of women…

Only about 40 black women have ever earned philosophy doctorates in the United States, according to an estimate by Kathryn T. Gines, a Penn State faculty member. 

The article recounts the changes the department made, including:

  • Making several hires in philosophy of race. “Not all graduate students of color want to study critical philosophy of race, and not all who study critical philosophy of race are students of color. But there’s overlap between those two groups,” says department chair Amy R. Allen
  • Improving recruitment. Hosting the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI) and following up with its students.
  • Increasing the fellowship amounts for PhD students and provided summer grants for students.
  • Altering thinking about admissions: Mr. Bernasconi says philosophy doctoral programs, and doctoral programs in general, pay too much attention to a student’s résumé and academic pedigree, an attitude that perpetuates privilege. The question he asks himself while reviewing applications is: With five years of intensive preparation, will the student be as good as any other new Ph.D.? “I read the writing samples very carefully,” he says. “I’m looking for a spark, something that suggests insight.”
  • Paying attention to, rather than glossing over, the racism and sexism of canonical philosophical figures.

According to the article, in 2014, the last year for which data are available, 79% of all Ph.D.s in the humanities were earned by whites, 3.8% by blacks. In philosophy, those figures are 84% and 4%, respectively.

race stats philosophy copy

(chart from The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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