Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy Profile
by Mercedes Diaz & Maryellen Stohlman-Vanderveen
March 16, 2022
Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy is a seven-day program on the Rutgers University Campus in New Brunswick designed to encourage students from various cultural, ethnic and social-economic backgrounds to consider a career in academic philosophy. Under the supervision of the institute staff, these students will explore various areas and methodologies in philosophy, hear philosophy lectures, interact with professional philosophers about their experiences in the profession, and attend workshops on developing skills for doing successful graduate work. Students will also interact with graduate students from various backgrounds and graduate programs. They will also receive advisement and assistance about applying to graduate schools. The Institute will cover travel and living expenses for the seven-day period and provide a stipend of $250. Students must be in their sophomore or junior years in college; demonstrate that they can contribute to creating greater diversity in the discipline of philosophy; be enrolled full-time in a college or university in the United States; maintain good academic standing; and be interested in exploring philosophy as a career. Up to fifteen to twenty students from around the country are selected each year based on a review of the student’s academic background; personal statement, writing sample, grades, and faculty recommendations. Applications for Summer 2022 are due on April 29, 2022.
When did Rutgers Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy begin and what motivated its inception?
It first started as a roundtable discussion with faculty and invited graduate students in 1996 spearheaded by Prof. Howard McGary. Prof. McGary felt that there needed to be a program to encourage students of underrepresented groups to consider majoring in philosophy and going into the profession. He applied for a grant. After this first conference, Prof. McGary and Prof. Jorge Garcia held their first undergraduate summer program in 1997. The idea was to get ambitious students, bring them to Rutgers, and give them a better idea of what philosophy is all about on a day to day basis. It has flourished so much over the years and served as an example for other diversity institutes that have come to fruition. This impact testifies to how important our institute has been.
What has evolved or changed about the institute over the years?
We have had more female applicants applying to our program since 2013 and it has increased every year.
What does a typical diversity institute program look like? What sort of activities do students do?
On the first day, students will arrive and get settled in their rooms, later we have dinner and a reception to greet everyone and allow the student participants, director, coordinator and grad student speakers to get to know each other. Monday through Friday will be a day full of two faculty talks (one in the morning and one in the afternoon). Students will get a chance to interact with faculty again during lunch and dinner. Time will also be set aside for a graduate student panel and a panel to discuss preparing for graduate school and philosophy as a profession. There are sets of readings that we ask each faculty speaker to send ahead of time so I can distribute them out to the student participants. In the past, we have held a mini writing workshop where students have shared their writing samples with each other to get feedback or a workshop where students discuss a suggested reading. The dinners are usually at the Inn and Conference Center on campus, but twice during the week we change it to sandwiches in the Rutgers Gardens or pizza at the department and chat with each other followed by jazz or dinner at a local restaurant in town.
What value does a diversity institute have to students?
Providing outreach to students from underrepresented groups helps in creating mentorship and a sense of community and I hope that we have created that for all the students that have participated in our program – that they have mentors and community for life.
I also hope that we have encouraged students to realize their potential and that they have faith in themselves to continue on in their future goals. Hopefully, they will come back as graduate student speakers and/or faculty speakers in the future.
Why is it important to cultivate the careers of philosophers from traditionally underrepresented groups?
Many of the student participants that take part come from small colleges where the philosophy department is not as large. Meeting diverse faculty from various universities across the country exposes them to different ways of approaching philosophy. It helps in having them understand what it means to be a professional philosopher and what is entailed.
What lesson(s) have you learned since beginning your work with this program?
When I first started working in this program in 2000, I did not realize all the work involved. The more I was immersed in the process and started attending the dinners and creating fun activities for the students apart from the actual panel talks, the more I realized everything that needs to be done to create a successful program. Diversity comes in different facets. There is no one way about it. Being open and willing to listen to the students during the downtime is essential and important to running a successful institute.
What other advice would you give to an institution that wants to create its own diversity institute?
Funny enough, I’ve had conversations over the years with graduate students who were working on creating diversity institutes at their respective universities and we discussed what is entailed in getting funding and organizing this type of event. Apart from that, it’s important to have engaging topics available to the student participants. We always try to have different topics being discussed by our faculty speakers.
Besides topics, I feel creating a sense of community is one of the most important for the students that will be attending. Over the years, former student participants have said that they kept in touch with their cohorts as well as graduate student speakers and faculty. It is one thing they cherished and are glad to have experienced.
Are you or a student you know interested in applying to a summer diversity institute? A complete list of diversity institutes, their application requirements, and their respective deadlines can be found here.