Danielle Aviles and Rhishav Choudhury
This is in response to a recent viewpoint related to female philosophy students being disrespected in the classroom. First off, we think it’s important to accept the reality that sexism remains pervasive in the world and demands significant attention in the public sphere if it is to be eroded and debilitated over time. This is due to unfortunate historical circumstances and trends that have affected norms and mores for millennia and will take time to dismantle. Additionally, it is a fact that women in philosophy, along with minorities, are poorly represented, although there is a movement of quasi-affirmative action throughout educational institutions to try to rectify that. In turn, there have been incidents over the years at several prominent universities in which serious allegations of harassment and discrimination towards women from faculty members and students have led to overall shakeups in the departments and in the pursuit of justice. So yes, there is no dispute that sexism remains a grave problem globally and that it has had a tenuous relationship with academic philosophy.
Now, however, we come to the issue of sexism and disrespect towards women within this particular department. We do not agree with the view that there is a hidden aggression aimed at women in the philosophy department at The College of Wooster. Together we have taken over a dozen classes in the department, with the entire faculty, and are confident that none of them has a sexist fiber in their body. That does not mean that they do not have differing personalities, eccentricities and relationships with their students, but their manner in class with their students and in their teaching methods is not guided by any gender-based prejudice. Now, when it comes to students, it is true that some students speak out more in class than others and some are more boisterous in their manner of discussion than others. We have been guilty of becoming too animated ourselves while in discussion in the past and have seen it from students of both genders. We have witnessed numerous circumstances where female students have participated in a similar manner, as far as speaking over others and voicing their disagreements strongly. This does not seem to stem from gender discrimination, but from the nature of philosophy itself. At times we are probing and asking each other questions that sometimes fundamentally are at odds with our worldviews, and so this can sometimes lead to tension and misunderstanding. We think the latter is key; sometimes situations and intentions are misunderstood, and it’s important to seek clarification and understanding before jumping to conclusions.
We will not speak of the individual cases that were brought up, aside from saying one of us was present in one of them and do not think that there seemed to be any discriminatory agenda. We will also not assert that there have not been sexist male students who have taken philosophy classes. But, we think that the claim that there is a pervasive atmosphere of disrespect and discrimination in our department is mistaken and unnecessarily tarnishes the image of a department that is committed to an ethos of respect and equal consideration. There are all kinds of characters in the world, but before jumping to conclusions, we think it is pertinent to clarify the matter and discuss it amongst the other parties before generalizing a few cases to represent an overall pattern. To avoid similar situations in the future, we believe that speaking in an open manner with the respective parties involved might be a more fruitful way of diminishing these sorts of misunderstandings. The faculty members always have their doors open to whomever might wish to discuss certain class decorum or behavior that they feel might have a discriminatory basis.