By Megan Spengler
I met Isabella Copeland my first year at Northwestern, when we were in the same freshman seminar: “Art vs. Philosophy” (or something of the sort). Philosophy has never been my strong point; I spent most of the class daydreaming and doodling in my notebook while Isabella was driving the discussion with thought-provoking philosophical questions.
So it’s no surprise to me she is now president of WiPhi, or Women in Philosophy.
I recently sat down with Isabella at Farmhouse Evanston to hear about her recent rise to philosophy-fame, and to find out what really goes on in WiPhi meetings.
“I’ve been a philosophy major since we took that freshman seminar, so WiPhi was presented to me just through the department,” Copeland explained to me. “There was a different president every year, and last year one of the fabulous presidents graduated and asked if I would be interested in taking over.”
WiPhi has only been around since 2011, so don’t feel too bad if you haven’t heard much about it. Copeland’s main task this year is to make this club a larger presence on campus, and make its members proud of their commitment to philosophy.
“It shouldn’t be thought of as a nerdy group. We’re women with interests and critical thinking skills, and it’s really just a place to foster a female voice. It’s important for females to get together and just encourage each other and remind each other that we’re actually super smart, and that our arguments matter,” said Copeland.
When I imagine a philosophy club meeting, I picture everyone sitting around a dimly-lit room in large leather armchairs debating philosophical ideals, possibly in British accents. But WiPhi isn’t nearly as intimidating. They meet twice a month and give members the chance to talk about Northwestern-specific problems as well as hypothetical situations in need of a philosophical answer.
“It’s not totally structured, but I think I like it better that way. You come in, feel out the vibe. If everyone is super tired, we just chill, eat our pizza, relax and be women in philosophy. But if we’re feeling feisty, let’s go into it, let’s destroy something.”
When in need for something to “destroy,” Copeland mentioned that she often uses “The Ethicist,” Chuck Klosterman’s ethical advice column in the New York Times, as a base for discussion.
“He has random people write in about their moral dilemmas, and he offers a solution. Sometimes it’s spot on, but when he presents an argument that’s sort of shaky, that’s when we have the best times. It’s like ‘What?? How could you say that?! That doesn’t make any sense! What would Kant say??’”
I had to ask if boys ever came to the meetings, or if they were even allowed. Copeland made sure to point out that WiPhi is very non-exclusive. Yes, their name only says “women,” but guys are always welcome (even though none have attended yet).
“I get a lot of guys who say, ‘This is ridiculous! You can’t exclude men, that’s not philosophical!’ And it’s a huge thing that is misunderstood about the group. It’s really not an exclusionist group, it’s just women in philosophy, it’s a minority group period. At the end of the day, that’s just how numbers fall,” said Copeland. “It’s an all-female initiative, and it’s not about the exclusion of males, it’s about supporting a female presence in a male-dominated field like philosophy.”
For the philosophy-challenged like myself, the philosophy department will soon be offering a mini-lecture series open to anyone, taught by different professors on their area of interest or expertise. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a working knowledge of existentialism?
Make sure to watch out for WiPhi’s greatest claim to fame, which is happening at the end of this quarter: The Gertrude Bussey Lecture.
“Gertrude Bussey was the first male or female to graduate with a philosophy degree from Northwestern, but she was a woman! So that’s great. We have a lecture every year in her honor, where we bring in a philosopher just to give a lecture and have dinner with students.”
This year, the featured speaker is Dr. Julie Driver, and the lecture will take place on March 6 at 5PM in University Hall Room 121.
If you are interested in attending a meeting or finding information on events, you can visit WiPhi’s Facebook page.