George Yancy to teach next semester


An interviewer for the New York Times opinion section and author or editor of more than a dozen books on the study of race and whiteness will be teaching at Allegheny College this fall.
A MyAllegheny announcement on April 18 highlighted that George Yancy will be visiting and conducting a lecture-style course.
Yancy is a highly regarded philosopher in the focus area of race and whiteness, and is currently the Samuel Dobbs professor of philosophy at Emory University.
The visit is sponsored by the Bywater Fund for Social Justice Programming, according to the post.
“My sister (Barbara A. Creed) wanted to commemorate my time at Allegheny,” said Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Bill Bywater. “So she decided to create a fund when I retired from the college in 2012.”
The Bywater Fund is used primarily to provide support for undergraduate philosophy conferences at Allegheny College.
The Bywater Fund helped organize Yancy’s first visit to campus during the one-day conference on social justice in honor of Bywater’s retirement on April 20, 2012, where he talked about “courageous listening and the importance of a white ally.”
“Yancy has been here several times previously,” said Eric Palmer, professor of philosophy and chair of philosophy and religious studies. “He came here in 2012, 2014 and even 2019.”
Some of Yancy’s visits were a part of the Bywater Philosophy Conferences.
“(Former Allegheny College professor of philosophy and religious studies) Eric Boynton and I started developing a conference series in 2008,” Bywater said. “I have been a guest at several such conferences even after retiring from Allegheny.”
The last time Yancy visited Allegheny was in 2019, when he presented a lecture on “Black gift-giving and the return of the white backlash.”
Palmer reiterated that the reason Yancy has not visited Allegheny over the past three years is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yancy loves the intimate class and campus structure at Allegheny,” Palmer said. “He has been meaning to visit the school but has been sidetracked by a busy schedule coming out of the midst of the pandemic.”
Bywater confirmed that it was Yancy who reached out to him to organize his upcoming visiting spell at Allegheny.
“I have known Yancy for a while now and have had plenty of opportunities to collaborate with him on and off campus,” Bywater said. “He contacted me and proposed the idea of co-teaching a course.”
As such, Bywater and Yancy will be working together to bring to students a special course offering in fall 2022 — Philosophy 290: Whiteness and the Conceptualization of Race.
The lectures will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday.
“Yancy will be lecturing the class on Monday whereas I will be taking the lead on Wednesday since Yancy is only here in a visiting capacity,” Bywater said.
According to Palmer, the course will offer a critical study of race as a structure of American society and will explore the racial binary of Black and white through the lenses of African American philosophy, feminist theory, literature and pedagogy.
Palmer also mentioned that Yancy will participate in other activities apart from lecturing during his time at Allegheny.
“Yancy’s days will be organized in such a way that will allow him to interact with the campus community,” Palmer said. “We hope to possibly set up an office hours system, allow him to navigate his way through the campus and even help set up a collaboration with clubs and organizations on campus.”
Bywater said that Yancy is an important part of raising awareness about important topics related directly to students on campus and the wider community.
“Yancy is so honest and patient with everything he does that I consider him to be a natural teacher,” Bywater said. “He encourages discourse regarding the experiences of different groups from a philosophical point of view, in particular the experiences of (people of color).”
Palmer and Bywater agreed that any community can reap the benefits of being aware and learning about their history and considering different perspectives.
“Given that Allegheny is a primarily white institution, Yancy’s area of focus — race and whiteness — is even more so relevant to our community,” Palmer said.
According to Bywater, Allegheny has always positively reacted to Yancy.
“I’ve worked with Yancy during all his visits to Allegheny,” Bywater said. “Although many audiences have negatively reacted to his work, Allegheny never fails to accept his words with open arms.”
Allegheny’s affiliation with Yancy is such that he was part of the Diversity Scholar in Residence program of the philosophy department. According to the Allegheny College website, “Diversity Scholar in Residence was a program created to bring in talented, diverse, and contemporary scholars to Allegheny. These scholars would visit classes, participate in class discussions, and give lectures on issues of social justice throughout their stay at the college.”
Moreover, Yancy’s work is often cited in philosophy courses at Allegheny. For example, Bywater will be teaching Philosophy 275: Black American Thinkers in the fall as well — a complementary course to Philosophy 290.
Palmer emphasized special topics philosophy courses that focus on relevant areas such as global justice, Black studies and feminism are part of a progression of the philosophy department.
“Philosophy is often understood as being ancient or classical,” Palmer said. “It is important to note that philosophy is modern, as presently we offer courses that ponder deeply about events more relevant to our time.”
Bywater agreed with Palmer and made note of his observations over 55 years at Allegheny.
“Our philosophy program has changed dramatically over time,” Bywater said. “(Former college President Lawrence Lee) Pelletier asked me during my early years here to establish the women studies program.”
Palmer, who has been at the college for over 30 years, commented that despite all the changes that have occurred during his time at Allegheny, the rate of enrollment in the philosophy program has maintained steady.
“Although the philosophy department is small at Allegheny — usually about 12 majors per class — we are consistent with our numbers and a lot of students from other disciplines love to take a philosophy class,” Palmer said.
Bywater hopes to participate at Allegheny in the future and hopes that initiatives, such as Yancy’s upcoming course, can continue to help the philosophy department grow and influence change in the community.

Given that Allegheny is a primarily white institution, Yancy’s area of focus — race and whiteness — is even more so relevant to our community.”

— Eric Palmer, Professor of Philosophy