Mini-series: The growing impact of the Diveristy Reading List for Philosophy staff and students

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In this mini-series post, Simon Fokt, a Learning Technologist in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, provides an update on the growing impact of the Diversity Reading List, which provides resources for philosophy staff to include authors from under-represented groups in the curriculum…

The role of the Diversity Reading List (DRL) has been growing steadily both in Edinburgh and worldwide. The resource nearly doubled in size since we last wrote about it, and our site enjoys a great deal of interest with an average of 37 daily visitors. A large number of repeat visits suggests that hundreds of people use the List to improve their reading lists, and do so regularly. Moreover, the DRL has committed volunteers and contributors around the world, and is regularly recommended and referenced on social media.

To quickly remind you, the aim of the DRL is to support philosophy lecturers and teachers in creating more diverse and inclusive syllabi. We do this by significantly simplifying the task of finding texts written by authors from under-represented groups. The short teaching notes we provide on all List entries further help people assess whether a given resource will be useful for their specific needs. In effect, the DRL can make the often-difficult task of syllabus diversification a fair bit easier.

Image credit: Simon Fokt

We were quite excited to see the Principles for promoting inclusion, equality and diversity in the curriculum published last year because they offer fantastic support for what we have been trying to achieve. They draw attention to the fact that ‘new and existing knowledge and ideas come from a range of sources and are not limited to white, male, Western thinkers.’ Furthermore, they recommend that ‘the curriculum should […] expose our students to a variety of perspectives from thinkers with a range of different cultures, backgrounds and identities.’ And this is our primary objective: we gather and promote the use of texts written by authors from under-represented groups, texts which typically include a wide variety of perspectives and topics, and texts that draw from multiple traditions and sources. By making it easier for the lecturers to find and include such texts in their syllabi, we hope to make it more likely that the students will be exposed to them.

As the DRL is currently focusing on Philosophy – a discipline badly in need of diversification – this is where we have advanced the most. The resource is officially recommended to all Philosophy staff as valuable in composing diverse syllabi that meet the British Philosophical Association Good Practice Guidelines. Indeed, the List was used in a recent project to improve the gender balance of existing syllabi in the subject area, and our junior staff report consulting it regularly when composing their curricula and recommending further readings in courses where curricula are pre-composed. This is particularly encouraging, as we continue to create a culture where young academics not only pay attention to diversity, but also can feel supported in their efforts to diversify.

Over the last three years, the DRL engaged seven Philosophy PhD students, a post-doc, and an early career teaching fellow, either as volunteers or as part of funded projects. This offered them an opportunity for professional development, benefitted them financially, and helped develop their awareness of diversity issues. It was particularly exciting to see that several of the people involved listed their work for the DRL in their CV’s as an example of successful involvement in a grant project and their commitment to improving the discipline.

Looking outside of philosophy, we led a number of workshops and presented posters at Edinburgh events. We hope to have inspired people to diversify and possibly create Diversity Reading Lists in their own disciplines! Further still, various members of the DRL team give regular talks at international conferences and lead workshops, promoting Edinburgh as a centre for diversity innovation. We have been featured in numerous publications, including books on equality and diversity (e.g., EqualBITE: Gender equality in higher education), large philosophy blogs (e.g., Daily Nous, Feminist Philosophers), philosophy outreach projects (e.g., OPEN Scotland), etc. What is most exciting is that the DRL is now recommended by a number of other institutions (see e.g., American Philosophical Association, Queens University, and Glasgow University)!

We have much coming up now, too. We are working towards organising Wikipedia edit-a-thons that focus on philosophers from under-represented backgrounds, we are involved in the campaign to build a statue for Mary Shepherd in Edinburgh, and we are collaborating with a number of diversity projects in philosophy and other disciplines. If you are interested, you can read about this and much more in our Newsletters.
If you’d like to help us out, please spread the word!

Simon Fokt

Simon’s background is in philosophical aesthetics, focusing on classification of art, aesthetic properties, and the borderlines of aesthetics: pornography, comics and computer games. In his job as a learning technologist he designed and developed a number of online courses, MOOCs, and other education resources – work he is as of recently pursuing independently through his company, TELdesign Limited. Committed to promoting equality in the academia, he manages the Diversity Reading List in Philosophy.

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