By Carina Noyola, Staff writer
In a time when calls for social justice and dealing with the roots of systemic racism infuse so many conversations, what practical use is studying philosophy when its foundation is rooted in the Eurocentric viewpoint that many believe, consciously or not, supports that racism?
That was a theme in a Zoom forum Friday sponsored by the CSUDH Philosophy Department in conjunction with the CSUDH Philosophy Club. It was designed, according to a department email promoting the event, to “facilitate an open and critical dialogue addressing philosophical pedagogy (teaching) and the state of the field regarding race, as well as highlighting the role that philosophical pedagogy can play in liberation.”
In the two-hour session, attended by more than 50 participants including 10 CSUDH philosophy instructors, students voiced their thoughts and experiences about the texts they are required to read, as well as the difference in personal perspectives between students at a university that is about 64 percent female and 90 percent non-white and their professors (based on the philosophy department’s university page, and an admittedly unscientific Google image search of their names and CSUDH, 7 of the 13 instructors in the department appear to be white males).
“What is this white male going to tell me about the world, and how was his world compared to my world?” asked Wendy Melgar, a philosophy major, in reference to most of the readings she has been exposed to being written by the same Eurocentric philosophers that have been taught for generations.
Many participants acknowledged Melgars’ point of view about the canonical texts, but also shared their thoughts on how their experiences were different from many of their professors and how that might affect the mutual understanding of race representation in philosophy.
Many of the students acknowledged Melgars’ point of view and also shared their thoughts on how their experiences are different from many of the professors and whether the issue of inclusivity may hinder their complete understanding of what their professors expect.
“As a professor, you have to understand that your students will not have the same experiences as you, and you have to be able to learn to see the way your student sees the world as well,”, said Zamara Jimenez, the host and president of the CSUDH Philosophy Club. “This isn’t a commentary on you as professors, but a commentary on the field… the reason I feel comfortable having this conversation with professors from Dominguez Hills is because I know that even if i’m in the wrong, or even if this is something that they don’t want to particularly hear they will not shut me out.”
Topics covered included contemporary and past philosophical examination of race and religion but there was one overall question that seemed to infuse the session: “Is the way in which philosophy is taught Eurocentric, and if so, how does that affect not only the subject but the way it is taught at a university as diverse at CSUDH?
That was articulated in a comment by Dr. Robert Jones, an assistant philosophy professor, and adviser to the campus philosophy club.
“Let’s talk about the fact that a middle aged white dude is teaching philosophy of race,” Jones said. “What does that say about the institution, what does that say about the field, what does that say about who gets hired?”