9 July 2020
The Diversifying Philosophy Student Collective’s Open Letter to the Oxford Philosophy Faculty is significant due to the number of signatories, reflecting strong support from both undergraduate and graduate members of the Faculty of Philosophy. The letter was written by a collective of philosophy students which formed spontaneously over the last few weeks, adding momentum to the efforts of already present student groups (such as the undergraduate-run groups oxford public philosophy and people for womxn* in philosophy, as well as the graduate societies Minorities and Philosophy and Philiminality).
This expression and desire for change, however, must be matched with tangible action from the Faculty and the wider University. The Faculty must take action to foster BME representation among teaching staff and students, and support is also needed from the Faculty to make graduate work on underrepresented areas of philosophy possible, both financially and institutionally. There is a need for more student funding; hiring tenure-track and senior faculty who can supervise graduate students and run courses in the relevant areas, and not merely relying on graduate and undergraduate students’ paid and unpaid labour to compensate for the Faculty’s failings; and greater collaboration with experts in other departments, such as Oriental Studies, Theology and Religion, and the Department of Politics and International Relations.
In covering thinkers and ideas almost exclusively from the so-called ‘Western’ canon (an exception being a newly implemented, optional paper on Indian philosophy), the Faculty is complicit in perpetuating the colonial idea that people outside of Europe are supposedly incapable of thinking rationally, or doing ‘real’ philosophy. Policing the boundaries of philosophy is enshrined in a colonialist mindset about what counts as philosophy, and about who counts as credible knowers. We therefore echo the letter’s statement that Oxford Philosophy could more accurately be called ‘world-dominating’ rather than ‘world-leading’, if concrete changes are not implemented to rectify these injustices.