Navigating the difficulties of life is no easy task. 19-year-old writer and philosophy student Rose Donnelly is not a stranger to this reality; however, she finds purpose in helping others overcome challenge.
Rose published two books of poetry this year — “Dancing Alone” in January and “Looking in The Mirror” in July. She is aspiring to become a philosophy professor in a field that is dominated by men. Her major is one of the smallest offered by Western Kentucky University. In the fall, she began work as a commentary writer for the College Heights Herald.
We reached out to Donnelly to ask what keeps her going.
Q: What does an average day look like for you?
A: A lot of reading and research. I read a lot of male dominated areas of philosophy a lot. There’s not a lot of women’s perspectives in that, which can be a little difficult and disheartening sometimes, just because it feels like there’s no women in the room. But most of my day is just researching, reading, having… “philosophical conversations” with people.
Q: What women-led contributions to philosophy have you studied?
A: Honestly, there’s not a lot. When you look at the curriculum that we learn about, it’s mainly old, dead white dudes. But there has been a push recently in my philosophy classes, especially with Dr. Audrey Anton, she allows us to read a lot of her work. That’s really inspiring to see that. But honestly, most of the philosophical concepts that we talk about are usually from guys.
But now I think about it, the “Trolley Problem” is actually by Philippa Foot, and she is a philosopher. I believe she’s dead now. But that was actually her problem and we usually tie it with utilitarianism, which is like John Stuart Mill. So that’s actually a woman’s thought experiment.
Q: What support do you receive from your department and others in your field?
A: Thankfully, all my professors are really supportive. Although we only have one female philosopher, both Dr. Seidler and Dr. Alcon are super supportive.
Dr. Seidler is the oldest out of all of them, he’s in his 70s but he’s very “woke,” I would say. He always has something really interesting for us to read about, like feminist philosophy or female philosophers, if you asked h’d to give you a list of 20 different books, easily.
Dr. Alcon always uses a lot of female focused authors in his curriculum. And Dr. Anton, no, no.
Dr. Anton also just as pretty much take me under her wing when it comes to being a philosophy professor. Like we had a whole conversation about how hard it is to be a philosopher now because every year jobs get cut in half for philosophy positions, and knowing that there’s with 20% of females in philosophy is also a little terrifying. But she’s given me a lot of confidence when it comes to going to conferences , being able to ask questions, and speak my mind.
Q: How do you cope with the societal pressures and obstacles you face as a woman?
A: I go back to philosophy most of the time. I think about morality and how we view the world, and I really like Absurdism and ego death and the idea that even if I’m not respected as much as my male counterpart in a philosophy classroom, it doesn’t matter. In the long run, we’re just organisms on a floating orb. It’s a lot about perspective.
I think philosophy has given me that also, it’s really helped me articulate my thoughts a lot clearer than it was before. I feel a lot more confident through philosophy, just speaking up for myself, and being able to manage stress better when it comes to being disrespected in a work environment or in the classroom because of my sex. Being able to have that perspective and also support for my fellow classmates who are females is also just really empowering.
Q: Tell me about something in your time at college you had to overcome?
A: Okay, this is very personal, Michael, and I’m sorry, but this is like what I think—
Q: That’s totally okay, as long as you’re comfortable sharing.
I don’t care, I’ve written two books about it, so I don’t really care. So in my adolescence, I was sexually abused by a boy at my church, and it went on for three years. I blamed myself for, say, six, seven years.
In college, I was still blaming myself and feeling like my existence as a woman didn’t matter, and that I was only wanted for my body, not my mind. It took me until the end of my sophomore year to finally be able to release that.
Honestly, just getting confidence in my life and in my intelligence really helped in just having that perspective. But that was really hard, because I pretty much doubted myself for those first two years of college. It was really hard to stand up for myself.
That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve had to work through, but I feel a lot stronger. I feel a lot more confident in my abilities. Now, I’m not constantly being weighed down with this idea that I’m lesser than everyone else because of what happened to me and just because of who I am.
Q: How did you help yourself heal from those experiences?
A: I wrote poetry, I wrote two books. I also went to therapy, that really helped. I was able to talk about and work through what I went through.
Working through that made me realize how much I loved philosophy. So it actually really worked out in the end, because I think I had suppressed that part of myself for the longest time.
I thought that I should prove that I was smart to everyone else, when in reality, that was something I never needed to do in the first place. Being able to distance myself and realize that really made me want to become a philosophy professor. I was no longer proving anything to anyone, I was just enjoying something that I was doing.
Q: What is it you hope to provide to people as a philosophy professor?
A: If there’s one thing I know to be true about myself, it’s that my purpose in life is to help people and to make them feel less alone. I feel like that is just the foundation of philosophy, just to have meaningful and tangible conversations about life, what people are thinking about, how that impacts their life, and how we view the world.
I think healing yourself through questions can honestly be as helpful as through medicine. That’s what I want, just to provide a safe space for people to question their lives without feeling alone.
Q: What do you think you need to be successful in the field of philosophy?
More representation, more resources for women in philosophy. Part of me feels like that’s not fair, but it’s also not fair that women get walked all over when it comes to conferences, because we’re not able to speak up or talk over men. Because the moment we do, we’re deemed as a “bitch.” When a guy speaks over us, or speaks over another guy, he doesn’t have that context.
So I think just equity, just being able to play at the same level as everyone else and being treated the same way.