I am a graduate student in a department with serious diversity issues including problems with sexual harassment. Another female graduate student and I work endlessly for climate change to little avail. One major roadblock I’ve noticed is the lack of support from other women–both students and faculty–in the department. Some female students have admitted that they only work for change when the risks of doing so are minimized, some claim that there is no problem, some have said that women who work for climate improvement are alienating (in virtue of our efforts), and others have newly begun to work with faculty who are well known for creating a hostile climate for women in the department. Some female faculty have actually thanked me for not asking them to *do* anything about climate problems, and some promise concrete support and fail to follow through.
I suspect that if my colleague and I had support from other women in the department we might be more effective in our efforts to improve things. If major improvement is too lofty a goal, I suspect that a strong female support system would do wonders for our desire (and ability) to pursue degrees in the department.
I recognize that each department is unique and that each individual woman will have different reasons for inaction. Still, I doubt that this departmental dynamic is an anomaly, and so I think this question is worth asking: What are good strategies for gathering female support for issues pertaining to women in philosophy?
I’m so sorry to hear about situation in your department. Sadly, this dynamic is not all that uncommon in academia. It can be very hard to rock the boat you are sitting in. This can be especially true when you know you will likely be sitting in the same boat for decades. I have three suggestions.
First is to stop seeing a climate issue as a woman’s-only issue. It isn’t. A poisonous climate, even if only targeting a specific group, hurts everyone. Can you enlist any of your male colleagues (either graduate students or faculty) to help address the problems in your department? Just as women are sometimes very poor allies, men are sometimes very good allies.
Second is to broaden beyond your department. You are exactly right that it can help tremendously to have a strong women’s network, but there is no reason to confine that network to philosophy. Gather friends and colleagues from around your institution to build a network for change.
Third is to talk to leaders in your institution about what you are trying to do and why: your Title IX Coordinator, the Ombuds Office, etc. (These offices have different names in different institutions, so you will have to do some legwork.) It will be important to determine first which offices will protect your confidentiality and, ideally, work in a constructive manner with the department so that departmental backlash is minimized. The most effective and enduring change comes when it is pushed top-down as well as bottom-up. In addition, those in leadership positions might know of resources or other programs that you could tap into.