Hypatia Transracialism Controversy

The feminist philosophy journal Hypatia became involved in a dispute in April 2017 that led to the online shaming of one of its authors, Rebecca Tuvel, a Canadian untenured assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis. The journal had published a peer-reviewed article by Tuvel in which she compared aspects of the situation of Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman, to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identifies as black. When the article was criticized on social media, scholars associated with Hypatia joined in the criticism and urged the journal to retract it. The controversy exposed a rift within the journal's editorial team and more broadly within feminism and academic philosophy.

In the article--"In Defense of Transracialism", published in Hypatia's spring 2017 issue on 25 April--Tuvel argued that "since we should accept transgender individuals' decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals' decisions to change races." Three days later, a small group on Facebook and Twitter began criticizing the article and attacking Tuvel. From 29 April an open letter, naming a member of Hypatia's editorial board as its point of contact, urged that the article be retracted. The article's publication had sent a message, the letter said, that "white cis scholars may engage in speculative discussion of these themes" without engaging "theorists whose lives are most directly affected by transphobia and racism".

On 1 May a post appeared on the journal's Facebook page apologizing for the article's publication, on behalf of "a majority" of Hypatia's associate editors. By the following day the open letter had 830 signatories, including scholars associated with Hypatia and two members of Tuvel's dissertation committee. Hypatia's editor-in-chief, Sally Scholz, and its board of directors stood by the article. When Scholz resigned in July 2017, the board decided to suspend the associate editors' authority to appoint the next editor, in response to which eight associate editors resigned. The directors set up a task force to restructure the journal's governance. In February 2018 the directors themselves were replaced.

The academic community responded with support for Tuvel. The affair exposed fault lines within philosophy about peer review, analytic versus continental philosophy, diversity within the profession, who is deemed qualified to write about people's lived experience, the pressures of social media, and how to preserve the free exchange of ideas.