Avoid the elites

Posted: June 4, 2014 by Jender in good mentoring, Good news

As an UG, I attended a university that is moderate to mediocre in reputation. I say this as someone from a city that is highly concentrated with Ivy-leagues and their close seconds, so I went into the school feeling like I was already as a bit of a disadvantage if I wanted an academic career.

I chose to major in philosophy and a science, and pursue a B.S. over a B.A. I was maybe one of a handful of women in both departments when I started school, something that really changed (to my excitement) by the time I graduated. While in both of these departments, I was consistently approached by professors to participate in various out-of-classroom academic events, asked to mentor or speak with younger students (sometimes females, but most of the time just youngins) and even given a scholarship award based on merit in the philosophy department (ironically, the day I was awarded was the day I told them I had decided to minor in philosophy but fulfill the entire curriculum- I didn’t want to take the liberal arts requirements to get a B.A. as opposed to the B.S.). Suffice to say, I, as a very young-looking, outspoken, and conventionally good-looking enough female, was treated as one of the most favored students in the entire department (I not only felt/ appreciated this, but was told this by many other students in the department). As a consequence, other students (male and female) came to me with respectful, even playful discourses (I remember running away laughing from a male philosophy student as he shouted through our dorm room, “Examples don’t constitute arguments!”) and some even came to me for advice on papers when we were in the same classes. I had an excellent experience, graduated with my degree in science, and never looked back at it with anything but fond memories.

It wasn’t until reading this site, hearing from other female Philosophy students, and looking further into the matter that I realized that my situation wasn’t the norm. It had never even occurred to me that I should or could have been grateful for being treated the way all the other students were treated- that this was such a persistent and pervasive problem in other schools, and that I was lucky to escape something I didn’t know still existed.

I think the main difference here, honestly, is that because my school had a reputation as being less than elite, the professors were what I’d call “teaching professors” (think “teaching hospital” but in philosophy). They weren’t at the tops of their fields, nor were they churning out pieces for reputable journals like clockwork. This gave them the freedom to, well, mentor their students instead of competing with them. It made it such that students who were sincerely interested or invested in philosophy -male or female and even un-identified in one case- were treated with complete and utter respect and appreciation. The number of times I awkwardly approached a male professor to chat about some idea that came into my head at 3 AM the morning before and was met with nothing but an open mind…I feel blessed now to have gone to the school I went to.

The point of my story? I think there seems to be a heavy theme of “at X impressive university” and “Y elite school” within a lot of these posts. Perhaps the problem is cultural, but not the culture of philosophy in general…philosophy in the context of privilege and elitism. My advice to aspiring young philosophers? Go to the shitty schools. Make them better with your presence. Squeeze everything you can out of anyone who is willing to give you the opportunity, and take what you learn with you wherever you go. There is hope! The elites are only elites because they are coveted. Take that away from them…who knows what the future of philosophy could look like.

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