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Addressing Gender Imbalance

Longstanding Summer Program for Women in Philosophy at UC San Diego offers supportive experience for undergraduates wishing to pursue advanced degrees in philosophy


  • Anthony King

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  • Anthony King

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The 2019 UC San Diego Summer Program for Women in Philosophy is set for July 22 – Aug. 2 (Courtesy Summer Program for Women in Philosophy)

Helping to address the significant gender imbalance in the field of philosophy, UC San Diego will once again host the Summer Program for Women in Philosophy, bringing 15 undergraduate students to campus from universities across the United States for an intensive, 10-day program to better prepare them for graduate study in the discipline.

Hosted by the Department of Philosophy July 22 – Aug. 2, the program features two graduate-level seminar courses and multiple workshops led by UC San Diego and visiting faculty members, as well as current graduate students.

The purpose is to provide an engaging, unique and supportive learning experience, providing the confidence to stay with — and succeed at — advanced study in philosophy.

“Interacting with women professionals who are successful in the field helps undergraduate women to picture themselves in the role of a professional philosopher,” said current Department of Philosophy graduate student H. JiMin Kwon, who is serving on the 2019 Executive Committee with associate professor Clinton Tolley.

“Our seminars predominantly feature women philosophers, which is almost unheard of in a traditional classroom setting. This can make a huge impact on students' decision to pursue the discipline, which can in turn help reduce gender disparity in philosophy,” Kwon said.

SPWP Group

The program welcomes applications from students cross the United States and Canada. (Courtesy Summer Program for Women in Philosophy)

National Opinion Research Center data shows an average of 27% of philosophy Ph.D.s given in the United States between 1997 and 2012 were awarded to women, and statistics from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences paint a similar picture. In their 2016 study “Gender Distribution of Degrees in Philosophy,” the proportion of women earning degrees in the discipline was “substantially lower” than for humanities as a whole.

The UC San Diego program was one of the first U.S. institutions to offer enrichment specifically targeting under-represented groups among philosophy students, and the first dedicated to building opportunities specifically for undergraduate women who are planning to pursue graduate school in philosophy, Tolley said.

“In addition to providing individual opportunities for philosophical growth and professional development, the program also provides a unique opportunity for creating a special sense of community among each cohort, with the students and faculty forming networks for collaboration, academic support and friendship that last well after their time at UC San Diego,” he said. “We are very excited for the chance to welcome all of the students and the visiting faculty to our department and the UC San Diego community more broadly.”

Graduating top talent

Ranked top 20 in the nation, overall enrollment in the philosophy graduate program at UC San Diego rose 21% over 10 years, comparing the 2008-2009 academic year to 2018-2019. Recent alumnae now working in higher education include Joyce Havstad ‘14 at Oakland University, Erin Frykholm ‘11 at the University of Kansas and Kristen Irwin ‘10 at Loyola University Chicago.

Department of Philosophy Distinguished Professor Nancy Cartwright was recently honored with the prestigious Hempel Award for lifetime scholarly achievement. The first woman selected, Cartwright said there was opportunity for more women to contribute to the field.

“Supporting women in philosophy is important because we … often take a different tack on it, which is good for the field,” Cartwright said in receiving the award. “Philosophy can be great fun, and it can be of serious practical import, too. I think it is important to make sure both of these come true.”


Participants in the 2018 program. (Courtesy Summer Program for Women in Philosophy)

Each year, the UC San Diego Summer Program for Women in Philosophy welcomes applications from students across the United States and Canada. This year’s attendees come from universities in nine states, including California, Indiana, Georgia, New York and Massachusetts. Their interest areas include ancient philosophy, philosophy of language, epistemology, ethics and social philosophy.

Undergraduate students often enter the 10-day program as third-year students, before starting their final year of undergraduate study in philosophy and, as is typical, applications to graduate programs begin to be submitted.

Students have their transportation costs reimbursed, and receive housing and meals on campus. Reading materials for the courses are provided, and each participant receives a stipend for incidentals.

Primary funding for the program is from a $100,000 donation from the Patricia and Christopher Weil Family Foundation, which was matched by the UC San Diego Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor. Additional support comes from the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Division of Arts and Humanities, American Philosophical Association, American Society for Aesthetics and the Marc Sanders Foundation.

Leading the way

Previous attendees praised the UC San Diego program, which began and was developed by the Department of Philosophy in 2014 under founder and former director Rick Grush.

“Before [the program], I didn’t know anyone who was pursuing philosophy at the graduate level, let alone another woman,” said 2018 participant Anna-Bella Sicilia, an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland. “After the program, I feel so much more confident about my place in the field and assured that this is the path for me.”

Mercer Gary, a former participant who is now in a philosophy graduate program at Pennsylvania State University, said attending in 2014 made a major impact on both her educational and career path, “largely because of the community of exceptional women philosophers” in which she came into contact.


Far center, UC San Diego assistant professor Monique Wonderly leads a course in 2018. Wonderly will return for this year's program. (Courtesy Summer Program for Women in Philosophy)

“Above all else, [the program] helped me see that productive and supportive communities of philosophers traditionally marginalized within the discipline do exist and have the potential to positively impact the future of the field,” Gary said.

Assistant professor of philosophy at UC Riverside, Myisha Cherry will lead the 2019 main seminar course. Her research interest lies at the intersection of moral psychology and social and political philosophy. Host and producer of “The UnMute Podcast,” Cherry is author of “The Moral Psychology of Anger” and “Unmuted: Conversation on prejudice, oppression, and social justice.”

Additional faculty participants include Julianne Chung of both the University of Louisville and American Society of Aesthetics, Daniela Dover of UCLA, Amy Kind of Claremont McKenna College, Andreja Novakovic of UC Berkeley and Monique Wonderly of UC San Diego.

Wonderly earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at UC Riverside in 2015. Her primary areas of interest lie at the intersection of ethics and human emotion. In particular, she is interested in how emotional processes impact moral deliberation and action, human agency and our psychological connectedness to other persons and objects.

Wonderly has advice for all students of the humanities, in particular those pursuing degrees in philosophy: “Don’t be afraid to pursue the really hard questions, to think outside the box, and to see the value in learning to think more deeply and critically, no matter how elusive precise answers to those questions prove to be.”

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