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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Teaching a white curriculum

Teaching+a+white+curriculum

Systematic anti-black racism in St. Joe’s philosophy department

As the class of 2020 approaches graduation, it is natural to begin to reflect on our time here. The memories we have created and the people we have met will forever change our perspectives. However, I have begun to question how much our Jesuit education has prepared us to be leaders who will invoke needed change in this world.

It is our duty, as students and soon to be alumni, to speak up and ensure that future Hawks are actually getting the well rounded and inclusive liberal arts education that they are willing to pay for.

The majority of this country in the next generation will be people of color (POC) who are disproportionately young, yet we operate in a city where so many minority students can’t afford to attend St. Joe’s.

Therefore, scholarships along with diverse faculty and educational programs are needed to attract this demographic that St. Joe’s desperately needs. As a philosophy major, I am pleased with how I have been taught to think critically, reason logically and develop my own perspectives on social and ethical issues. However, a message of anti-black racism is sent by my department in their failure to hire faculty to teach African thought and by ignoring its importance in General Education Programs (GEP).

ILLUSTRATION: KAITLYN PATTERSON ’20/THE HAWK

I’ve even confronted individual racism by a professor who was shocked and extremely upset when I told him Jesus was black. He went as far as to refute Revelations 1:12, where Jesus is described as a bronze man with woolly hair. This reaction seems natural coming out of a department that, more often than not, operates to support the status of the white male in our society.

Don’t get me wrong, the St. Joe’s philosophy department is full of intelligent and genuine people who will do anything for their students. Yet I cannot help but feel as though my philosophical education has been severely limited.

First off, let me acknowledge the fact that I have a lot to learn about this world and myself before I am ready to start pointing fingers at anyone. However, when it comes to seeking beauty and truth I think it can be rightfully assumed that we must engulf our minds with a plethora of diverse perspectives before we can cultivate our own.

How does a philosophy student do that at St. Joe’s when we are only exposed to white Western thought? Are non-majors who fulfill their GEP credit in philosophy left to subconsciously believe wisdom, morality and all higher forms of thought are only birthed from the mouths of white men? Our GEPs are designed for other courses to build off of, so what are the effects of ignoring the philosophies of POC?

Instead, we were taught that Locke was an advocate for liberalism—not that he, along with the Catholic Church and the Founding Fathers, invested in slavery and justified Native expropriation. We were told that Kant was one of the most important ethicists of the modern period, not that he pioneered theories of sub-personhood. African philosophy and Philosophy of Race are both listed on the St. Joe’s course catalogue, yet they have not been taught in years. The hard work is done, the courses have been laid out and we know what requirements they fulfill. The problem is that St. Joe’s chooses not to employ professors with backgrounds in anything other than Western philosophy.

It is here that we face yet another fundamental issue. These classes are on the books, but have not been taught during my four years at St. Joe’s. Is this not false advertisements? Are they just a decoy to make the school look better and more inclusive?

I hope that’s not the case. Maybe they left them on the catalog in hopes of getting someone to teach them in the upcoming semesters, yet I cannot will myself to make
assumptions that are highly doubtful.

When our institution gets back on financial track due to the proposed Voluntary Separation Program, I hope they can start to think about encouraging diversity within the department. Until then, by not having a faculty member with a background in Africology or African philosophy, St. Joe’s is perpetuating white supremacy, anti-black racism and oppression in the classroom, on campus and eventually into the world. Institutions teach what they value.

Philosophy not only influences but is the foundation of all disciplines. By not valuing and hiring professors to teach the philosophies of POC is to create the platform for acts of bias and hatred that we see on St. Joe’s campus. In the words of MLK, this may not be a convenient time to make a change, but “the time is always right to do what is right.”

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