by Julie Lineback

“Do I—as a Latina woman—have a place in the field of philosophy?”

That was a question University of West Georgia student Maria Constanza “Cony” Garrido Sierralta asked herself for years. But thanks to Associate Professor and Director of Philosophy Dr. Walter Riker and the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI), she knows for certain she does.

Maria Constanza “Cony” Garrido Sierralta and Dr. Linda Martin Alcoff

“Dr. Riker told me about PIKSI the year prior,” said Sierralta, who is majoring in both philosophy and foreign languages. “I didn’t think I was ready to apply, but he encouraged me. Dr. Janet Donohoe, professor of philosophy and dean of the Honors College, and Dr. Lisa Connell, associate professor of French, wrote letters of recommendation.”

Philosophy is one of the least diverse disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The American Philosophical Association (APA) reported in 2014 that racial/ethnic minorities received approximately 17 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, 10 percent of master’s degrees and 8 percent of doctorate degrees. In the same year, 31 percent of philosophy degree recipients at the bachelor’s and doctorate levels were women, and 28 percent of master’s degree recipients were women.

The APA launched PIKSI in 2006 to encourage undergraduates from groups underrepresented in philosophy, including LGBTQ people, those with disabilities, and students from low-income families, to pursue advanced degrees in the field. It is a highly selective institute—only around 20 students are selected throughout the U.S. and Canada to attend the 10-day experience. The organization offers attendees a stipend and covers transportation and lodging.

The experience, which Sierralta described as a dream of new possibilities come true, included a rigorous daily schedule of lectures and seminars followed by a nightly routine of writing papers and essays.

“The most fascinating thing was getting to meet all of the people I read about in books,” she recalled. “Just having them explain their own concepts and being able to ask them questions directly and have them clarify was amazing.”

Maria Constanza “Cony” Garrido Sierralta and PIKSI friends

Sierralta spoke of arriving at UWG as a “lucky accident.” She had been looking for a place to continue her scholarly achievement when her husband enrolled in the Ph.D. in Psychology: Consciousness and Society program. After visiting with Donohoe, she said she immediately felt it was the right fit.

“Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far,” she shared. “I felt that this was the right place for me to grow as a scholar.”

And although she is a senior and was expected to graduate this year with her dual degrees, her love of learning helped her decide to stick around.

“I think I’m a student for life,” concluded Sierralta, who hopes to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy. “I want to continue the legacy. It is my responsibility now to keep projects like PIKSI going.”

Posted on November 17, 2017