“Homeopathic attention to gender” (April 27) strikes a familiar chord. There is a technique that others have reported to be successful for recruiting women from intro-level philosophy classes into upper-level classes. Namely, the department chair asks faculty for the names of a few students from each intro-level course who have done especially well in the course and seem to show promise and interest in becoming a philosophy minor or major. Those students then receive a congratulatory letter inviting them to take more philosophy classes. When special attention is given to making sure that women receive the letter, the thought goes, they will respond well to an explicit welcome.
I proposed that my department use this technique, specifically requesting that we keep gender and other minorities in mind (the number of women in our upper-level courses is less than half that in our lower-level courses). It does seem to be a useful recruitment tool: students who receive the letter do often take additional philosophy courses. However, I’m the only one in my (fairly large) department to submit names of women.
This takes us back to a chicken-and-egg problem, doesn’t it? How can women fit an image of philosopher when the image is apparently gendered male? We can try to change that image by increasing the actual number of women doing philosophy. But perhaps seeing the talented women in our classes is not possible, given the pre-existing image.