Why Philosophy?

Ninety percent of faculty hired in philosophy departments across the United States are White men (Alcoff, 2013), a fact that figured into Isaac’s decision to get his master’s degree in the field:

I chose to major in philosophy as an undergrad, when I started to realize at the University of Texas that there weren’t many of my kind - Mexican people - in the philosophy program. It was all White guys in the philosophy program there, aside from one kid who was from Palestine. Everyone else was a bunch of White kids. Looking

Learning and Not Learning to Become Qualitative Researchers 243 back on when I got my masters here at L’TEP, it was all European philosophy. I guess I made a conscientious decision to try to insert a Brown voice into a clearly White dominant view.

The philosophy department at Borderlands is small, with only five tenured faculty and one tenure-track assistant professor. Four of these professors are White males, and the remaining two female professors are minorities, one of the them being a yet-to-be tenured female minoritized scholar. Thus, 33 percent of faculty in this department are from minoritized groups. It’s unusual for a there to be only 77 percent White faculty in this department, when 90 percent is the norm. Gomez (forthcoming) writes, “In 2013, The New York Times identified philosophy as the most underrepresented academic field for women and other minorities in the United States.” Compared to other humanities, it falls behind in diversity (Alcoff, 2013; Haslanger, 2013). Early in the semester, when we did the exercise on positionality, Israel shared a meme with all of us on his phone. It was Fox News personality Tucker Carlson in a red bow tie, and it read, “I have the privilege of being totally unaware of my own privilege.” Carlson is known for being openly racist, sexist, and homo-phobic, and his views on immigrants are especially vile. Toward the end of the first semester, Israel spoke again, saving to Gloria, “That’s what I tell my students. Some of us are born on third base, and the rest of us are born on first base.” That is, White people are born on third base, and people of color are born on first base - a baseball metaphor of inequality (Artz & Murphy, 2000; Lensmire et al., 2013; McIntosh, 2018).

Conflicting Ideologies and Identities

“I’m cisgender,” Israel said in our early discussion about positionality. He was the first to bring this term up in a class discussion. Cisgender refers to having one’s gender identity align with the one they were assigned at birth. It is often discussed in contrast to transgender, which refers to someone whose gender identity does not match the one they were given at birth. He described himself pejoratively in terms of his gender identity, while he affirmed his identity as Chicano. But then he summed himself up by saving, “I’m just an asshole straight guy.”

I Always Wanted a Ph.D.

In 2013, Israel started teaching philosophy at the local community college as an adjunct, and he applied to the doctoral program in 2015. He explained:

I’ve always just wanted a Ph.D. I looked into it the rhetoric program briefly, and it seemed to be a lot in line with philosophy. And I wasn’tgoing to leave El Paso again just for a Ph.D. I had already started working at the community college, and my daughter was about to start school. . . . The rhetoric program seemed to be the closest in line with philosophy.

When he was accepted into the Rhetoric and Composition Studies program, he met with Kate, who directed the program at the time. She invited him to take the ethnographic case study course as one of his electives for the Ph.D. program. That first semester in the program, Israel also took Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition Studies, a course for students coming to the doctorate program from other disciplines, which focuses on foundational concepts in the field. Like Israel, most students in the program are working professionals and take only one or two courses at a time.

Entering a New Field

Philosophy and rhetoric do have things in common, as Israel noted. Rhetoric often draws on philosophy in studying language and its relation to reality, but it is actually a much broader field, encompassing the teaching of writing, workplace communication, community literacies, digital communication, and intercultural interactions. Research methodologies also differ, and while theoretical argumentation is one approach to rhetoric, qualitative, historical, and archival methods are common as well. Israel used theoretical argument in his master’s thesis. Ethnographic case study research was totally new to him.

That first semester in the doctoral program was bumpy. In his Introduction to Rhetoric class, he earned a B, a decent grade but nothing like the As he had earned in his master’s program. In the first semester of the case study course, Israel completed the collaborative assignments with his research team, such as the theory presentation, the conference proposal, and the manuscript draft, but he didn’t do all the individual assignments. Out of a required five Letters to the Readers, he only submitted the first one, and out of the five required sets of field notes, he submitted just the first two. Char and Kate gave him an I grade in the class, which at Borderlands University signifies incomplete. According to university policy, students have a year to make up the missing work; if they don’t, the grade of I automatically turns into an F, failing. Char met with Israel after the first semester class was over, and together they drew up a contract that spelled out the work that Israel needed to complete. Char and Kate received only about half the work he was missing, even though Kate unsuccessfully tried to contact Israel through email to see if had completed it. In his interview with Jair, Israel said he had submitted all the work. He told Jair he hadn’t tried to contact Char and Kate about this. Israel did do better in the second semester of the class, and he earned a B.

Early in the first-semester course, Israel had confided in Char that he was going through a difficult breakup and was temporarily homeless. He mentioned this as well in his interview with Jair after the course was over. Except for these occasions, he kept silent about what he was enduring in his personal life.

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