If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Will Only White Scholars Think About It? Mellon Hopes Not

Walk into a philosophy program at most universities, and chances are that the majority of students majoring in the field are white. At the graduate school level, this is even more true. A new grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation hopes to change that by encouraging more students from underrepresented populations to consider advanced studies in philosophy.

The American Philosophical Association admits it has a lot of work to do to diversify the field. In 2009, Hispanics, African-Americans, and other underrepresented students received only about 12 percent of the bachelor's degrees in philosophy, and only 8 percent each of the master's and doctoral degrees in the field. While these proportions represent increases from 1995, the first year data were available, much work remains to be done. APA hopes the new grant from Mellon will help in those efforts.

Mellon awarded APA $600,000 over a three-year period to support undergraduate institutes designed to boost diversity in the philosophy field. One of the largest such programs is APA's Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI). This program was designed to encourage students of color, women, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged, and LGBT students to pursue advanced studies in philosophy, leading to careers in academia.

With the funding from Mellon, APA plans to boost the number of students enrolled in PIKSI, as well as the length of the summer program. The seven-day PIKSI program is housed at Penn State University. In addition, APA plans to add a second PIKSI program in Boston, supported jointly by the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Finally, Mellon funding will support networking and professional development opportunities, further supporting undergraduate diversity programs such as PIKSI.

Considering this program, plus grants to boost minority representation in academia and prepare more African-American students for careers as curators, it is not difficult to see a pattern. Mellon has made greater diversity in the humanities and academia one of its top priorities.