At a time when the number of female philosophers on college campuses is shrinking nationally, an opposite trend can be found at SUNY Buffalo State. For the first time in at least a decade, women are very close to outnumbering men as philosophy majors and minors.
One contributor to the shift is the grassroots campus organization Women in Philosophy (WIP), an academic and social club for majors and minors, which started in 2013 with four students and has grown to almost 25 members. The women organize campus symposiums and social gatherings, support one another in publishing papers, and contribute to a blog.
A tea hosted last fall by Kimberly Blessing, professor and chair of the college’s Philosophy Department, and department lecturer Leigh Duffy bloomed into a formal club. Blessing said it was clear at that first gathering the students hungered for the camaraderie of a women-only group.
“Our experiences from teaching confirm that dynamics change, sometimes quite dramatically, when men are involved,” Blessing said. “We wanted WIP to be a group exclusively for women, to provide the support and mentoring that was not available to us as young students of philosophy.”
According to data compiled from the U.S. Education Department, less than 20 percent of full-time faculty members in philosophy are female, compared with more than 40 percent for the profession as a whole. When you figure in adjunct positions, instructors of color, and philosophy majors, the percentage of women at institutions of higher learning drops even lower, said WIP co-founder, senior Samantha Wezowicz who conducted research on the subject for an independent study.
“Arguments for the dearth of women are that philosophy can be aggressive and arrogant, that philosophers are argumentative, and that some have narrow and rigid views of what counts as philosophy, and that this deters female students,” Blessing said. “It’s also the case that young women don’t see women philosophers in the canon.”
Another drawback is there are few female philosophy professors serving as mentors to students. Having Blessing and Duffy teaching, interacting with students outside of class, and leading WIP is helping Buffalo State defy this dismal trend.
Wezowicz said that she has seen women become more confident after they have become involved with WIP. The organization also is luring new students to the major and to individual courses. Duffy, who recently won the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching, is piloting a Philosophy and Yoga course this semester in which students are introduced to eastern philosophy by exploring the theory and practice of yoga.
“Her current course is vastly populated by women,” Blessing said. “We are offering another two sections in the fall.”
Wezowicz, who switched her major to philosophy from art and was named Outstanding Philosophy Major for 2013-2014, recently learned she was accepted into Temple University’s highly regarded philosophy Ph.D. program. She will start in the fall.
“Without Dr. Blessing and her belief in me,” Wezowicz said, “I wouldn’t have applied to graduate school.”
For more information about WIP, call (716) 878-5136 or visit http://philosophy.buffalostate.edu/.