Saying Something if You See Something

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins has some cautiously encouraging words for junior faculty who have “things to say” about our profession. She knows you are quite possibly nervous, and not unreasonably worried about professional harm, yet:

Philosophers, even senior philosophers, are very far from being a unified bunch with respect to their opinions on current issues in the profession. Whatever you said, there is a decent chance that a number of senior philosophers out there were thinking (or even saying) if not it, then something isomorphic to it. In fact, whatever you said, there is a decent chance that a number of senior philosophers out there who will regard you as more hirable, tenurable, and so on, for having said that. There exist senior philosophers on hiring and tenure committees who are impressed by junior folks who have Things To Say about important issues in the profession, and who regard a willingness to do this as a desirable quality in a potential colleague. So while it’s true what you’ve said could do you professional harm, you never know: the opposite could be true.

Read the whole thing. She observes that the profession is undergoing a self-examination and transformation the likes of which we’ve not seen before, and notes that it is likely that “as contributions to these critical and exploratory conversations become more varied and greater in number, over time there is correspondingly less focus (and less burden) on any one individual who has something to say.”

I know of a number of terrible incidents of sexual harassment and general bullying in philosophy, and I completely understand why the victims in these cases might think that the best thing to do is to remain silent. And indeed, depending on the specifics, that may be the best thing to do, sadly. Like Carrie, I do not want to encourage anyone to do anything reckless. But I will note that, over the past several years, as a greater understanding of the problems in our profession permeates through the ranks of philosophers, some who have chosen to speak out have been able to find that there are supportive senior philosophers out there who admire their courage and want to help. I expect and hope that the number of such philosophers will grow.

UPDATE: Heidi Howkins Lockwood has a post up at Feminist Philosophers on the issue of remaining silent which includes a number of quotes from victims of sexual misconduct in philosophy.

UPDATE (3/27/2014): Katrina Sifferd, a philosopher at Elmhurst College, has a post up at her blog, Pleas and Excuses, about her experiences and their effects.

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