The philosophy department at Harvard University unequivocally denounces racism and systemic racial structures that pervade academic institutions and classrooms. Over the last few months, our faculty and graduate students have embarked on a commitment to develop anti-racism programming in order to better achieve an overall environment that is welcoming for all individuals, in particular persons of color. The department, as a whole, recognizes the responsibility that each of its members have in promoting a space that is anti-racist. And the department acknowledges the unfortunate fact that academia, and the philosophy department in particular, has not always upheld the ideal of equality that we explicitly endorse. This is an ideal we should live up to not just for its own sake, but because philosophy as a pursuit can only succeed if it is thoroughly and uncompromisingly egalitarian in this way. We are committed to a vision of philosophy as a force for justice and inclusion within our own institution, within the discipline, and in academia at large. We are dedicated to the continued work that is required for promoting anti-racism, and have, therefore identified short-term, as well as long-term, areas for improvement.
The following plans are the first step in our pledge to combat racism in our own community, and to help other communities of philosophers do the same. (These plans were created by the Harvard philosophy department Climate Working Group in liaison with the Harvard Minorities and Philosophy chapter).
Security and Building Access
Various members of the department raised the serious issue that the after-hours security presence in Emerson Hall has targeted many graduate students of color demanding that they vacate the premises. The department maintains that all graduate students are granted full access to Emerson Hall (even during after-hours) in order to work on their research. Faculty and staff have met with the area manager for Securitas about this issue, and we are happy to report that Securitas took it very seriously and will be requiring some appropriate training for the individual in question. We also requested that this individual be reassigned to different buildings on campus.
Syllabus Design and Diversification
Our department has put together a working group to evaluate our current practices in syllabi development in order to expand the thinkers that are included in philosophical scholarship. The goal for the working group is to deliver a report by January 2021. Part of this group’s mandate will be to treat the following philosophical questions with the care they deserve:
- What does “diversifying the syllabus” mean for philosophy courses?
- What are the best reasons in favor of diversifying a given course’s syllabus?
- Are there reasons against diversifying certain course syllabi?
- What are the core values for diversification of the syllabus for any course?
- How can those values be pursued in the design of the curriculum as a whole?
The other part of this group’s mandate will be to produce a practical guide to diversifying the syllabus for teaching members within our community, and throughout the discipline.
Resources and Training for Faculty and Grads
Resources and anti-racism programming is in the works. We aim to have a list of resources for our community members by mid-Fall 2020. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is on the verge of hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. The goal would be for the philosophy department to work closely with the person in this position in order to develop resources and programming.
Our faculty offer a wide-range of philosophical expertise on many of the burgeoning historical and contemporary philosophical questions. In this sense, our faculty is composed of a diverse group of individuals. However, we must acknowledge that while there is great diversity in the philosophical repertoire offered at Harvard, there is a lack of diversity when it comes to faculty who are members of underrepresented groups in academia. (Caveat: It must be noted that in recent years the department has successfully hired many women faculty members. Historically, philosophy has trailed behind other fields in having gender balanced environments.) The first step here is to forge a consensus as a community about how best to think about and pursue the values of diversity and inclusion in the context of faculty hiring. One of the main shortcomings of the lack of diversity includes “pipeline” issues that plague philosophy as a profession, as well as opportunities for mentorship for both junior faculty and graduate students. As a crucial initial stage in this process, we will host a meeting Fall 2020, to help us think through how our department can work towards greater diversity.
Our Climate Team
Climate Working Group
The Climate Working Group (CWG) is an ongoing initiative to create a more inclusive climate in the philosophy department. CWG is composed of faculty and graduate students who routinely meet to address the various climate issues that arise in the department. The action plan above was developed from the work of this group, as well as the suggested anti-racism programming. CWG is also responsible for hosting community-wide climate meetings once a semester where anyone in the department can raise concerns about best practices for climate. In the past, these meetings have included discussion of issues of gender bias in classroom dynamics, concerns for international students with regard to language barriers, course head and teaching fellow relationships, and timely feedback on graduate work, to name a few items.
Minorities and Philosophy (MAP)
Harvard’s MAP chapter condemns all forms of racism, and stands in full support of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing revolution against the racist structures and other forms of institutionalized oppression that inextricably shape the history and trajectory of our nation. We are deeply disturbed by stories shared by Harvard students who continue to experience racism, as well as the countless other instances of police brutality and state-sponsored racial violence and inequality that afflict our society. These circumstances are the predictable output of institutions built on a foundation of white supremacy, and we acknowledge that the discipline of philosophy and our own department has often been complicit in these injustices.
Shortly after the murder of George Floyd and the beginning of the national revolution against state-sanctioned racist violence towards black members of our country, our MAP leadership released the following statement to our department, including these resources for philosophers in the Boston area to get more involved in the present struggle for justice. As an organization, and in coordination with the CWG and other members of our department, we are committed to a vision of philosophy as a force for justice and inclusion in society at large. We have since pledged to take the following steps to combat racism:
- Supporting efforts to diversify / decolonize our syllabi & curriculum in our department
- Curating & distributing resources on anti-racist pedagogy, as well as offering anti-racist pedagogy trainings (the first to be held in the fall)
- Creating an anti-racist reading group, dedicated to reading texts on anti-racism (the first also to be held in the fall)
- Organizing collective donations for local and national anti-racist organizations
- Continuing to create programming that fills in gaps of inequity that tend to afflict philosophers who come from marginalized backgrounds (e.g. speaking & interacting “professionally”, claiming authority in the classroom)
- Continuing to ensure that MAP provides a safe and supportive environment for graduate students from marginalized backgrounds to bring their concerns to the fore
We, the Harvard philosophy department, acknowledge that these action items are not exhaustive, and are committed to continuing to evolve our accountability action items as part of the continued work of the Climate Working Group and Minorities and Philosophy (MAP).