Philosophy Alum Wins Princeton Fellowship and Makes Tenure-Track Move
A philosopher hoping to make a real-world impact starts a Princeton fellowship and a tenure-track position at UC Davis.
This fall Elvira Basevich (Ph.D. ’17, Philosophy) will join the University of California, Davis, as an assistant professor of philosophy, while also spending the upcoming academic year at Princeton, where she will be a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow in the university’s Center for Human Values.
Basevich is moving to UC Davis from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where she was an assistant professor of philosophy. She is the author of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Lost and the Found and is also a published poet, and co-organizes the Pariah Book Manuscript Workshop, which helps philosophers who are members of groups underrepresented in the field to complete book manuscripts. Basevich recently spoke to the Graduate Center about mentorship, the continuing inspiration of Du Bois, and focusing her academic life on theorizing racial justice.
The Graduate Center: What first drew you to your research area, and particularly the philosophy and theory of race?
Basevich: My mentors first drew me to the subject: Professors Linda Martín Alcoff (Philosophy, Women's Studies), Frank Kirkland (Philosophy), and the late Charles Mills. They nurtured my philosophical development and happened to be the leading global scholars in the area. My dissertation prospectus first came together when I took a philosophy of race course co-taught by Linda and Frank. I wanted to continue to be part of the conversation they had introduced to me. I knew it would be a hard and difficult road ahead, but I wanted to walk it because I wanted my work as a philosopher to have a real impact on the world. I decided to devote my professional life to theorizing racial justice.
On a more personal note, I was drawn in particular to the neglected work of W.E.B. Du Bois because he gave me a framework to understand my place in the United States. I arrived in New York City as a Jewish/Uyghur refugee in ’89. I was born along the way, as my mother journeyed to the U.S. through Europe on the eve of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In confronting the impact of white supremacy on the polity, Du Bois still imagines that a real interracial moral community is possible in America and in the world. He charts the equitable terms of political belonging to make sense of what it means to be an “American” on moral, rather than white supremacist, grounds.
Why doesn’t he just give up on the American people and institutions as hopeless moral failures? Why doesn’t he assume that white people are simply beyond moral suasion? I am so moved by his drive to make a home in such a seemingly hopeless place — that drive speaks to my soul. For it can show how members of vulnerable groups can assert their right to live and flourish in hideous circumstances in which no one wants them here. Trying to answer these questions has given my life direction in my newfound homeland.
GC: What are your hopes for your new position at UC Davis and your fellowship at Princeton?
Basevich: At Princeton, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to finish my next book, A Du Boisian Theory of Justice: On Political Constructivism, Democratic Development, and Revolution, in a supportive community working on adjacent topics.
At Davis, I am eager to begin teaching graduate courses on political philosophy, race, and democracy, and to cultivate mentoring relationships with graduate students. There is so much more work to be done at the intersection of Africana philosophy, philosophy of race, and normative political philosophy — and I am keen to mentor the next generation of philosophers to help them do this work.
GC: What did you find most beneficial about your time at the Graduate Center?
Basevich: My mentors were the best thing about my time at the GC. Linda is not only brilliant, but she is intellectually generous with her students, giving them the opportunity to forge their own paths as young scholars. This is truly a unique and special gift that a mentor can give her mentee. It can be very scary to do something different, but Linda’s support carried me through when my will wavered. Without it I would not have been able to sharpen my philosophical imagination or have had the temerity to execute my project.
GC: What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students who hope to follow a similar path?
Basevich: Do whatever you think is the most intellectually courageous, difficult, and necessary work to do. When you lead with passion and your love of your craft, opportunity will follow. Noel Carroll gave me a wonderful piece of advice when I was still a graduate student: Many spend lifetimes making small interventions in big problems. Feel free to reinvent the wheel. This is particularly great advice for students working on neglected topics and figures. For too long and for really bad epistemological and sociological reasons, political philosophy has stagnated. Breathe new life into the discipline.
Also, you might as well aim for the top journals in the field. Luckily even in the past five years the profession has changed enough that works that would have gotten desk rejections in the past because they are about race are now sent out for blind review. Take a chance on yourself!
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