A guest post from Shay Welch:
Let me tell you a story about my interaction with the Georgia Philosophical Society:
I was first introduced to the organization in Fall 2011 by a colleague at a nearby college. I was invited to attend the Fall semester meeting at Emory University and I decided to go and take my Spelman students so that I could meet local philosophers while introducing my students to professional philosophy.
When I attended the meeting, all presenters were white males. Aside from my students, I was the only female member in attendance (there was one female grad student who attended one of the talks). And aside from undergrad students from HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), there was only one person of color present, and he was from another state. As you can imagine, I had quite a bit of explaining to do to my students when we returned to class.
While I was at the conference, I was approached by one of the committee members and asked if I would be willing to host the Spring 2012 meeting on Spelman’s campus. I readily agreed. Yet I did not do so unconditionally. I made it very clear to the conference organizers that they would have to conduct a representative conference that had a diverse set of presenters. I explained that Spelman College is an all-women’s HBCU and an all white male set of presenters would be contrary to the College’s mission and contrary to my own position as inclusive philosopher and student role model. I made it very clear from the beginning that if the program were not diverse, Spelman—via me—would revoke the use of its facilities.
I did not simply state that they would have to include women and/or people of color on the program regardless of quality of work. I did, however, provide them with a number of ways in which to recruit more diverse submissions. Some of the recommendations I included were the following: reach out to women philosophers list serves with the call for papers, include a line about diversity on the call for papers, select papers from a broad range of philosophy areas since it was an open topic conference, instead of the philosophy of language theme they seemed to have running at the Fall meeting, and send personal invites to local women philosophers. From what I could see, they did none of that.
As the conference date approached, I did not hear from any of the committee members. As it got dangerously close, I sent emails reminding them of the specific nature of Spelman College’s student body and ethico-political commitments and I did not receive a response. I finally got a response asking me to clarify, at which point I reiterated my stance. The program was sent to me less than a week before the date of the conference. Much to my surprise, the list of presenters was all male, though there was at least one man of color. I immediately responded to the committee and revoked Spelman’s invitation to the organization to host the conference on our campus. I explained, as I had numerous times, that an all male conference could not justly and ethically be held on an all women’s college campus. One slightly amusing response was that the conference would not be all male given the women who would be in the audience (again, my students and myself). Needless to say, that did not sway my position.
Relatedly, and disturbingly, our neighbor philosophy department at Morehouse College scooped up the conference. This is highly upsetting because Morehouse College is our brother HBCU. This conveys many problematic messages to professional philosophy and male students in philosophy. First, it cements the cultural acceptance of women’s absence from philosophy. By immediately supporting the Georgia Philosophical Society in light of Spelman College’s refusal to do so, the philosophy department at Morehouse College made a clear statement that they were not concerned with gender inclusion and that the conference should go on with its business as usual. Second, like Spelman College, Morehouse College is institutionally committed to resisting discrimination and exclusion in academia. Their involvement with this conference seems quite contrary to the mission of the College writ large.
While this conference was a submission-based, rather than invitation-based, conference, I think it is important to draw attention to the issue in light of the current Gendered Conference Campaign initiative. I think it is important to address such problems because much gender exclusion in philosophy is masked by the submission process, where all male reviewers are able to argue that there were not enough women submitters or good enough women authored papers. While there are fewer women in philosophy and sometimes it may be difficult to recruit female presenters, I think that a total of eight presenters in two conference meetings presented opportunity to explore processes of inclusion. I would like for a discussion to develop around the processes and actions that organizations can implement to increase the number of female presenters at submission-based conferences.