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Open-mindedness of philosophy department appeals to grad student

Feminist author and social activist bell hooks once said that she entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for her and every other student to be an active participant, and not just a passive consumer of education.

That’s a sentiment that must certainly resonate with Jamie Sewell, who is studying the author’s works as part of her master’s thesis is philosophy.

“I hope to be able to prove that feminist theories of education can give a new foundation and new processes by which we can make education more democratic,” explains Sewell, who originally hails from Cambridge, ON. “We need to be able to provide students with a more appropriate amount of power so that they aren’t just passive recipients of education.”

After earning an undergraduate degree at Brock University, Sewell applied and was accepted to graduate school at a number of universities, but chose to come to Windsor because she liked the philosophy department’s open-mindedness, as well as its emphasis on rhetoric and critical thinking.

“The critical thinking here is amazing and they really have a wide breadth of research interests,” said Sewell, the recipient of a graduate scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. “There are a lot of close relationships between faculty and their more junior colleagues. And you can really carve out a niche for yourself here.”

One of the department’s more attractive features, she said, was its willingness to allow her to focus her studies on the work of hooks, despite the fact that she may not be considered in the same league as such traditionally studied philosophers as David Hume or Immanuel Kant.

“In some circles hooks is thought of as a theorist,” said Sewell, who is supervised by professor Catherine Hundleby. “She’s not considered as a philosopher, although her work includes a lot of fruitful philosophical discussions. But the focus on rhetoric here justifies my use of her material. She’s well known publically and has a lot of very important things to say.”

As for studying philosophy, Sewell has become accustomed to questions from some people about its practicality in “the real world,” but she defends the discipline for the skills it provides for those who study it.

“It helps us to become better critical thinkers,” she said. It better enables people to examine the entire world, break down arguments for their validity and “even in our most intimate relationships, examine how we’re treating other people. It teaches us about fairness, justice and democracy, and how to become a responsible citizen.”