Broadening The Boundaries
Casey Johnson works to engage regional colleagues and students through the Society for Women in Philosophy
Most of Casey Johnson’s initial research in her Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut revolved around the philosophy of language. Johnson discovered holes in her study, however, when it came to the realms of social position and social power.
“To find these, I had to start reading political philosophy and feminist philosophy,” Johnson said. “The theories I was originally looking at couldn’t answer all my questions. I wanted to know more.”
This eventually led Johnson to the University of Idaho’s Department of Politics and Philosophy as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy. On the way to the U of I she had two previous academic appointments, both of which fed into her philosophical project. First, she was a predoctoral fellow on Northwestern University’s Sawyer Seminar on Social Epistemology. That project investigated testimony, disagreement, and polarization. Next, Johnson was a postdoctoral fellow on UConn’s Project on Humility and Conviction in Public life. That project focused on public and political discourse and dissent. Here at the U of I, her courses include Ethics, Feminist Philosophy, and Freedom and its Limits.
Johnson’s background in the study and philosophy of language resonates with her favorite aspect of teaching, she said.
“When I’m teaching, it’s great seeing people get the skills to say the things they’ve been wanting to say but didn’t have the words for,” Johnson said. “I love seeing that they can share what they truly think by finding the right words.”
To help others besides her students find their voice, Johnson initiated a regional branch of the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) during the 2018 spring semester. Johnson said the goal is to provide a space in the Inland Northwest where people cannot just talk about philosophy but also build their skills by engaging in the subject. Johnson said she and fellow U of I Assistant Professor of Philosophy Aleta Quinn had noticed a need for this kind of space among female philosophy majors and students.
“SWIP was born out of a historical need in the philosophy world that women have largely been underrepresented in the field,” Johnson said. “Even just a generation ago, female philosophers were essentially not allowed to do what their male counterparts could.”
Johnson said the field, as a whole, lacks female undergraduate students as well as female philosophy educators. SWIP, Johnson said, aims to tackle that by inviting open discussion on all topics of philosophy.
The chapter is open to those who identify as women or as non-binary. The members don’t have to be philosophers or even philosophy majors. According to Johnson, this is part of what makes the chapter fun to engage with.
All SWIP branches have their own unique character, Johnson said. Those who organize each chapter and attend the meetings provide the basis by which the group engages in philosophy.
“At some meetings we talk about the climate for underrepresented folks in philosophy. What does it mean to be the woman in your classroom? What does it mean to be the only woman in the philosophy club? What does it mean to think of feminist concerns in a philosophical way?” Johnson said. “There are so many ways we can discuss the intricacies of philosophy together.”
To further engage the public in philosophy, Johnson said she hopes the local chapter can grow to host a regional conference and regional lectures.
Aiding in that growth, the Inland Northwest SWIP chapter received a grant from the American Philosophical Fund for Diversity and Inclusivity. With the help of this grant, Myisha Cherry will come to the Palouse this April to lead discussions.
“Philosophy is something people are already doing or already can do, whether they know it or not,” Johnson said. “This sort of thing really helps women dive deeper into that.”
For Johnson, the combination of SWIP engagement and teaching at U of I helps her reach her personal goals of providing what past professors have given her. “I was lucky enough to be around professors that wanted me to thrive and learn,” Johnson said. “That’s just what I hope to provide to our students.”
Written by Hailey Stewart
Published January 2019