In Spring term of 2015 Carnegie Mellon University's Minorities and Philosophy chapter held an open forum on departmental culture, with special guest participant Carole Lee. Dr. Lee had come to CMU to give a talk in the departmental colloquium series, and we in CMU MAP took the opportunity of her presence to tap into her expertise on issues concerning bias in philosophy and demographics of philosophy. We at CMU MAP have had a lot of success with this strategy -- invite people who are independently in the area of our department to participate in talks or events we organise. It saves on cost to the chapter, and we've found that academics are willing and indeed happy to assist the Minorities and Philosophy organisation in our important work. So, especially if your department is willing to assist MAP by providing a venue and snacks as CMU Philosophy thankfully has been, I definitely recommend reaching out to anybody who you know will be visiting your department and asking them to participate in MAP activities. You may be pleasantly surprised at how eagerly professors respond to such requests!
The structure of the forum was kept deliberately simple: after some initial mingling with aforementioned snacks -- bagels and, incredibly importantly since this was in the morning, coffee -- we all sat round in a rough circle. Carole Lee was introduced and all participating were brought up to speed on what Dr. Lee has been up to that she may be able to provide some expert guidance on. After that, participants were asked to air any thoughts they had about departmental policy, climate, or culture, that may be MAP related, and we discussed whatever was raised in light of the combined experience and expertise of those in the room.
One pleasant feature of this meeting was that many of our CMU faculty were friendly and active participants in this discussion, allowing us to be sure that our discussion and its results would have some impact on departmental policy. That said, in discussion with participants after the event, I found that what many said they appreciated most was just the opportunity to discuss issues they had been thinking about some time but had not had the opportunity to discuss with somebody they felt had some expertise on the matter. The meeting hence had all the usual benefits of communal deliberation, while also, through the presence of the invited speaker, allowing participants to gain access to expert knowledge in a friendly and casual setting.
The event was a big success, and I encourage others to hold their own open forums with invited speakers!