Diversity in Philosophy: The Compass Workshops (guest post by Sukaina Hirji)

The following is a guest post* by Sukaina Hirji, assistant professor of philosophy at Virginia Tech, about the Compass Workshops. The workshops “provide undergraduates from underrepresented groups a chance to meet each other, and to explore various sub-disciplines within philosophy, in a relaxed and supportive environment.”

Compass: Undergraduate Philosophy Workshops
by Sukaina Hirji

Is your Department interested in promoting diversity in the discipline, or in attracting a more diverse group of applicants to your own graduate program? You might consider running a Compass Workshop. Compass was designed to be relatively low-cost, low-effort, and easily replicable workshop that seeks to give undergraduates from diverse backgrounds exposure to different areas within philosophy, as well as a chance to experience life in a graduate program and to get practical advice about applying to graduate school.

The first Compass Workshop took place at Princeton in 2016. We invited fifteen undergraduates (out of a group of applicants who identified as either women or gender minorities) from a variety of campuses near Princeton for a weekend of philosophical discussion and mentoring sessions. We structured the workshop as a kind of extended reading group. In advance of the workshop, the participants read six philosophy papers from a variety of sub-disciplines. Over the course of the weekend, we discussed each of these papers in six different discussion sessions. The discussions were largely undergraduate-led, with facilitation by graduate students. We also ran two advice sessions with female faculty members we invited from nearby departments.

My hope in starting the workshop was that it could be easily replicated by departments in other regions to provide coverage across the country. There are a number of truly wonderful diversity programs in philosophy (PIKSI, SPWP, Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity) but they are limited in the number of students they can accept every year, and most departments don’t have the resources to run similar programs.

A Compass Workshop can feasibly be organized by one or two graduate students, and with limited funds; it could also easily be run as a collaboration amongst several departments in the same region. Obviously a weekend workshop can’t provide the same benefits to participants as a more immersive summer program, but the feedback we have received from undergraduate participants has been extremely positive and encouraging. And, again, because the workshop is easily replicable, it has the potential to impact a large number of undergraduates.

This year, Princeton, UNC and University of Michigan all organized Compass Workshops, while USC, Stanford and WUSTL have all expressed organizing a workshop in the near future. If you’d like more information about running a workshop at your campus, you can check out the website or contact me.

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