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Philosophy department hires first Africana philosophy specialist

Professor+of+Philosophy+Alfred+Frankowski+stands+in+for+a+portrait+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+15%2C+2017%2C+outside+of+his+office+in+Faner+Hall.+
Professor of Philosophy Alfred Frankowski stands in for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, outside of his office in Faner Hall.

Professor of Philosophy Alfred Frankowski stands in for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, outside of his office in Faner Hall.

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Professor of Philosophy Alfred Frankowski stands in for a portrait Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, outside of his office in Faner Hall.

By Tierra Carpenter

The newest hire to the philosophy department comes as the first ever at SIU in his area of expertise; professor Alfred Frankowski is the university’s only Africana philosophy specialist.

Frankowski focuses on a range of areas within that specialty, including critical philosophy of race, African American and Africana philosophy, aesthetics, post-colonialism and critical genocide studies, according to the department’s website.

While enrolled as an undergraduate studying psychology and philosophy at San Jose University, Frankowski said he had to choose one of his two study areas to work in before he graduated.

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“Because psychology seemed like the more financially stable one, I thought that I wanted to do psychology, but I realized that I really loved philosophical questions and that everything I was interested in was in the field of philosophy,” Frankowski said.

He decided to go for his master’s degree in philosophy at the same university. As a graduate student he taught his first class in the field, ethics.

Frankowski said that’s when he really started to look at philosophy as a career field, and he eventually enrolled at the University of Oregon to earn his doctorate.

It was there he said he concentrated on the philosophy of race, phenomenology and critical theory.

“I realized there were some questions I really wanted to pursue,” Frankowski said. “A career in philosophy as a researcher is what would allow me to do that.”

After he graduated from the University in Oregon in 2012, Frankowski took a job at Northeastern University in Chicago as an assistant professor.

While at Northeastern, he said he developed a second research interest in the field of genocide studies, with a particular focus on Africa.

“I was working with some folks there, and we all thought that that would be an interesting way of re-thinking genocide, thinking about Africa and the African diaspora as the center of thinking about structures of genocide, as opposed to starting from the Holocaust and thinking about every genocide as having to meet the Holocaust standard,” Frankowski said.

He said his eyes opened to the fact that there were philosophical questions that hadn’t been asked yet.

“It was freeing for me to be able to say that I wasn’t just looking for answers,” Frankowsi said. “Instead of thinking in terms of, ‘What answers can we produce,’ thinking about what questions haven’t we asked. That was really freeing for me as a student.”

Frankowski currently teaches two classes at SIU, Intro to Ethics and Philosophy of Race.

He said he enjoys the fact that he is working with students from diverse backgrounds.

“That was really something I wanted to make sure I was continuing to do,” Frankowski said. “I wasn’t quite sure if I moved from NEIU what the diversity would be like. I was happy to see that that was still a part of the population here.”

In Frankowski’s Philosophy of Race class, he said about half of the students are from the Africana studies department. The other half is from philosophy.

This makes for some inciteful discussions, he said.

“That’s added such a wonderful dynamic to the classroom. I can see folks learning from each other,” Frankowski said.

One of Frankowski’s students is Sam Beard, a senior from Naperville studying philosophy. Beard is one person who advocated for the hire of a professor with Frankowski’s specializations.

He said it was important to him to have a professor like Frankowski because Beard lacks knowledge on Frankowski’s specialities.

“Historically speaking, philosophy is an extremely white field,” Beard said. “The biggest thinkers in philosophy have all been white males for the most part. I thought that we could certainly use an expert in the department.”

Beard said he thinks it’s vital to have the person teaching about Africana philosophy be an African American.

“People of color are severely underrepresented at universities in general, and specifically at SIU,” Beard said. “While representation isn’t the fix to all problems of diversity in institutions of higher education, it allows for the transfer of different perspectives on life and on philosophy.”

Beard said he recently attended a movie screening at Morris Library for “I am Not Your Negro,” a film based on a book James Baldwin had started to write about the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers.

It was Frankowski’s idea to show this film on campus.

Frankowski said it was at the screening that he realized he could successfully spread his teaching beyond the classroom.

“To be able to facilitate a conversation about race where we pursue our questions about it openly, as a community — that was really a sort of turning point for me at SIU,” Frankowski said.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or @tierramc_.

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