Rice grad students win grant to help increase participation in philosophy

Two advanced doctoral students in the Philosophy Department — Peter Zuk and Brandon Williams — have received a $10,000 grant from the American Philosophical Association (APA) to help fund Ethics and Society, a three-week, tuition-free summer enrichment program for rising juniors and seniors from Houston-area public and charter schools who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Brandon Williams, right, and Peter Zuk received a grant from the American Philosophical Association to help fund the Ethics and Society summer camp. Photos by Brandon Martin

Brandon Williams, right, and Peter Zuk received a grant from the American Philosophical Association to help fund the Ethics and Society summer camp. Photos by Brandon Martin

The grant, part of the APA’s fund for diversity and inclusiveness, aims to increase the presence and participation of women, racial and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, people with disabilities, people of low socio-economic status and other underrepresented groups in philosophy. Out of 19 applications, the Rice project was one of two to receive funding this year.

“The (Rice) program both addresses a deep disparity in educational opportunities and has the potential to contribute to diversity within the field of philosophy,” the APA said in its award announcement.

“We are incredibly grateful to be receiving this support from the APA,” Zuk said. “It will allow us to continue serving students for whom precollege instruction in philosophical ethics and political philosophy might not otherwise be available.”

Zuk and Williams held the first Ethics and Society camp in June. They introduced 15 high school students to theoretical concepts of justice and normative ethics and took them to three sites that represent industries vital to Houston’s identity to learn about ethics in practice: Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy; Anadarko Petroleum, where they heard a presentation by the company’s general counsel on corporate social responsibility and business ethics; and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston’s Refugee Services department.

Fifteen Houston-area high school students participated in the inaugural camp in June.

Fifteen Houston-area high school students participated in the inaugural camp in June.

“The students who participate learn how to think clearly and precisely about difficult moral and political issues,” said Donald Morrison, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy. “This is enormously valuable: it makes them smarter, and also better citizens. In addition, philosophy is fun!”

The program’s inaugural run was made possible through contributions from Humanities Texas, the state chapter of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Rice’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders. The 2017 camp is scheduled to take place June 12-30.

“Receiving this award from the APA is exciting on multiple levels,” Williams said. “That the APA has set aside funds explicitly for the purpose of increasing diversity in the field of philosophy means that we are beginning to see some long-needed changes in the discipline. That they chose our proposal out of many others means that we, the Rice Philosophy Department, are doing something right. And that they generously gave the amount of $10,000 means that the lives of talented, underprivileged young people will be positively impacted. We look forward to another great program this summer.”

To view a Rice News video about the inaugural camp, click here.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.