The Dennes Room

Statements on Recent Events

Although the purpose of this forum is to communicate news items about our department, such as prizes, publications, and hires, in this singular historical moment, it seems appropriate to post these exceptional statements.

Statement Composed by Graduate Students of UC Berkeley Philosophy Condemning Racism and Committing to Change

Without any qualification or hesitation, we affirm that Black Lives Matter. As members of the U.C. Berkeley Department of Philosophy, we resoundingly condemn the ongoing police brutality against Black people in our country. This untempered violence has led to the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others. This violence has been made all the more salient by the ongoing pandemic, which disproportionately affects communities of color. The racist status quo in the United States is unacceptable and must change.

We realize that a statement of solidarity is not enough. As academics and educators, we must use our positions of power and influence to work towards racial justice and equity. We cannot shy away from responsibility at this critical time.

We call on U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ to begin an effort to defund and demilitarize the U.C. Police Department and reallocate funds to community-based organizations that help better the lives of students and other peoples of color, in line with the proposal endorsed by our graduate-student workers union, UAW Local 2865, and those which are being considered at a citywide level in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition, we stand with U.C. Berkeley’s Law Students of African Descent in the demand that U.C. Berkeley immediately cut ties with the Berkeley Police Department.

We also recognize that now is the time to hold ourselves accountable and change our own practices. As a department, we have not done enough to support our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students, along with all other students of color, who face additional stressors on a daily basis both in and out of the classroom. For example, as teachers of philosophy, we have not done enough to critically interrogate stereotypes, particularly about “natural talent” for philosophy, that favor students in the dominant cultural group. We have also not done enough to recognize and challenge microaggressions. Moreover, we have not paid enough attention to the effects of a canon that is overwhelmingly white, and of passing over in complicit silence the racism voiced by some of its main figures. All of these inadequacies can alienate students from underrepresented groups and burden them with draining and distracting psychic work of overcoming alienation. This is made all the more salient by the fact that the racial diversity among our faculty and graduate students is unsatisfactory. We feel a profound sense of regret and responsibility at the thought of how these failures may have turned off or driven out students who would otherwise have excelled in our discipline.

Further, we have failed to properly intellectually engage with the work of philosophers of color and with work that is especially relevant to communities of color. Our course offerings and invited speaker lists rarely include this valuable work. This has been a disservice to our students and to philosophy as a whole, and has left us with a parochial understanding of our own discipline.

We must do better. The signatories of this letter are committed to doing the work to understand the role that we have played in perpetuating this status quo, and what steps we can take to change it.

In particular, we will take active steps to promote the following goals:

  • Restructuring our syllabi to include a larger number of philosophers of color
  • Inviting philosophers of color as colloquium speakers every academic year
  • Improving racial diversity in faculty hiring and graduate admissions by employing practices that increase equity.
  • Cross-listing courses from other departments, introducing new courses, and using other means to make room for discussions of racism and intersecting social justice issues
  • Engaging in conversations on philosophical pedagogy that critically interrogate our own assumptions, and those of our colleagues (e.g. about “natural talent” in philosophy) and that help us to recognize and foster the diverse kinds of excellence that characterize a healthy intellectual community

We recognize that these changes will not come easily, and that this list is not exhaustive. Nevertheless, we commit to finding solutions and will not create excuses to justify our failure to act. We also commit to ongoing dialogue about these issues with people of color in our community.

Signed:

Greyson Abid, Jes Heppler, Madeleine Levac, Teague Morris, Ravit Dotan, Nick French, Ahmee Marshall-Christensen, Elek Lane, Isabella Carlsson, Monika Chao, Patrick Ryan, Alina Wang, Pia Schneider, Edward Schwartz, Sophie Dandelet, Evan Washington, Michael Arsenault, Alex Kerr, Jennifer Marsh, Tyler Haddow, Daniel Khokhar, Scott Casleton, Caitlin Dolan, Sven Neth, Klaus Strelau, SJ Cowan, Sarah Vernallis, Randall Amano, Urte Laukaityte, Christian Nakazawa, Russell Helder, Mathias Boehm, Kirsten Pickering, Adam Paris, Virginia Foggo, Daniel Proske, Joseph Kassman-Tod, Luke Jensen, Micah Dubreuil, Milan Mossé, Russ McIntosh, John Abughattas, Valentin Beck (visitor), B Scot Rousse (visitor)

Statement by the Faculty of UC Berkeley Philosophy

As faculty of the UC Berkeley Department of Philosophy, we state unequivocally that Black lives matter. We condemn the acts of police brutality we have witnessed around the country and the racial inequalities they reflect and perpetuate.

In addition, we are moved to confront issues of racism closer to home. We call on the University of California, and the Berkeley campus in particular, to perform a thorough examination of its policing, in public discussion with all of the relevant stakeholders, and with the security and sense of security of students, faculty, staff, and visitors of color as its paramount consideration.

We acknowledge the many ways in which our discipline has been discouraging, unwelcoming, or alienating to people of color, and members of other historically disadvantaged groups. There have been overt acts of hostility, exclusion, and disregard by prominent figures in the history of our subject. There are continuing patterns of negligence that, as difficult as it may be to face, help to perpetuate structures of racism and exclusion.

A painful example of that negligence is the fact that the building that houses our department is named after Bernard Moses. Some of us vaguely knew that Moses was a man of less than enlightened views. But none of us who did know bothered to look into the details, until recently when a graduate student, who had read some of his papers, called our attention to several troubling passages. Among these is a passage in which Moses appears casually to describe the extra-legal terror inflicted on African-Americans in the post-war South as an emergency measure which was necessitated by the threat those Americans posed to civilization and which met “the crimes of barbarism with a method and a punishment that might be supposed to impress and deter the barbarian,” (“New Problems in the Study of Society,” University Chronicle, Vol. 3 (1900), p. 25). We have been remiss in failing to investigate and confront this history.

Among other steps, we commit:

  • To initiate a process to address the naming of our shared home.
  • To do our part in public discussion of UC policing.
  • To renew and amplify our efforts to attract the most diverse pool of applicants for faculty and staff positions, and for our graduate program, and to follow practices that counteract the documented biases that undermine fair assessment of applicants’ future contributions.
  • To remind ourselves that our very profession presupposes that philosophy is a learned skill, not something innate, and that research indicates that the view that it is innate discourages people who don’t fit the demographic stereotype of the academic philosopher.
  • To renew and amplify the welcome that we extend to invited scholars of color, not only in philosophy colloquia, but also in venues decided by faculty, e.g., Tanner, Kadish, Howison, Townsend.
  • To renew and amplify our efforts to diversify the authors on our syllabi, so that students from underrepresented groups don’t feel needlessly estranged or needlessly taxed by the mental effort of overcoming estrangement. Both as a practical step toward this end and signal of our commitment, we will, insofar as the department budget permits, hire graduate student researchers to develop resources for syllabus diversification.
  • To be responsive to undergraduate demand for courses on issues involving race and social justice and to graduate student demand for seminars and supervision on issues involving race and social justice.

June 19, 2020