As the nation considers the possibility of electing its first female president, Kimberly Blessing, professor of philosophy and humanities, is encouraging female philosophy students to find their inner leader.
While her students may not choose a career in politics, Blessing is grooming them to speak up and develop confidence. Along with illuminating young women and men alike in the finer points of existentialism and the meaning of life, Blessing oversees a unique campus group, Women in Philosophy (WIP), an academic and social club for female philosophy program majors and minors.
In 2013, Blessing and visiting assistant professor Leigh Duffy (pictured far right) were sharing articles about the lack of women in philosophy and decided to put together a group of female students to address this issue. Since then, the members have organized campus symposiums and social gatherings and supported one another in publishing papers.
“We found that students want to share concerns related to women studying philosophy and hurdles to being a female intellectual in general,” said Blessing, who joined the college’s Philosophy and Humanities Department in 2004 and has taught in the discipline for more than 20 years. “Even today, women are hit with the notion that it isn’t cool to be smart.”
Interestingly, this surge in female energy at Buffalo State comes at a time when college campuses nationwide are seeing a dearth of women philosophers. Blessing points to a July 2016 report from the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women showing that gender disparity persists in philosophy.
“Women’s activity and visibility in philosophy has increased only slowly since the 1970s and almost not at all since the 1990s,” she said.
Blessing said this trend is at least partly driven by lingering stereotypes of the discipline requiring aggression and arrogance, which may dissuade some women from pursuing it.
However, at Buffalo State’s department, enrollment is evenly divided between the sexes. Blessing attributes this to a student-friendly department culture and male colleagues who are sensitive to students’ needs and interests. She also would like to think that WIP plays a role.
Blessing, ’90, who majored in French and philosophy at Buffalo State before pursing her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Buffalo, originally gravitated toward the discipline because it drew upon the writing skills she developed as a teenager and her questioning nature.
She admits she encountered some of the stereotypical aggressiveness and arrogance in graduate school and learned to develop a thick skin.
“Once I left graduate school, I was teaching at small Catholic colleges and found that I was much more comfortable in these smaller and more nurturing teaching environments,” she said. “I started looking for work in Western New York after my sister and only sibling went through her second bout with breast cancer. I was thrilled to secure a position at Buffalo State. I benefited greatly from kind and generous mentors, including retired philosophy professors George Hole and Jerry Nosich, as well as supportive male colleagues and friends in the department.”
To her, philosophy isn’t grounded only in the wisdom of ancient sages. She sees its relevance everywhere. She loves to infuse her classrooms with popular cultural references and often uses novels and television shows in her first-year courses as a foray into the subject.
She’s recently authored or co-authored academic articles on topics such as “Cosmic Justice in Breaking Bad: Can Sociopaths and Antiheroes Live Meaningful Lives?,” “The Meaning of Life and Work in Downton Abbey,” and “What HBO’s Girls Has to Say About Meaning in Life for Millennials.”
In 2014, Blessing co-founded another group promoting women in the field, Buffalo Ladies in Philosophy (BLIP), with Julie Kirsch, a philosophy professor at D’Youville College. It’s a consortium of female philosophy professors representing seven colleges and universities in Western New York. This fall the group will holds its second annual workshop where they will present their current work and research.
Blessing anticipates that BLIP will continue as a buoy for female philosophers navigating a primarily male-dominated profession.
Meanwhile, she continues to encourage her female undergraduates to raise their hand, raise their voice, and raise the bar of expectations for whatever career they end up pursuing.
About Kimberly Blessing
In 2004, Blessing joined Buffalo State’s Philosophy and Humanities Department at after teaching at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan; and Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. She has served as department chair for two terms between 2008 and 2014. Her primary teaching interests include early modern philosophy, philosophy of religion, the meaning of life, and existentialism. Blessing serves as an honorary member of the French National Honor’s Society and is a member of the Alliance Française de Buffalo.
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