Ten high school students from across Indianapolis participated in the inaugural Butler University Philosophy and Critical Thinking (BUPACT) camp on Butler’s campus this summer. The weeklong program, made possible by funding from a grant from Lilly Endowment, brought high school students to Butler University’s campus for a week of exciting activities, field trips, and instruction on a wide range of philosophical topics pertaining to the central theme of justice.

Professor Lavender McKittrick-Sweitzer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, and Kyle Furlane, Instructor of Philosophy, partnered to design and facilitate the University’s first iteration of this camp. Both McKittrick-Sweitzer and Furlane have worked with the Philosophy for Children program previously, running similar philosophy camps at other institutions and organizations, and were inspired to bring the model to life at Butler. Together with two undergraduate facilitators, the professors designed the programming around learning outcomes like articulating and supporting personal perspectives, successfully engaging in discussions about complex philosophical issues, and understanding and navigating opposing views and thought models. 

BUPACT scholars spent their week in various sessions, engaging in debate and discussion games, and visiting and exploring sites like Newfields and The Farm at Butler, all while exploring different topics related to justice. Throughout the week, the scholars had the opportunity to discuss the issues that matter most to them. On the last day, participants presented personal research projects to their parents, guardians, and community members during a special showcase.

Furlane, who previously taught a course on Philosophy for Children at Butler, shared that this project was the culmination of more than ten years of experience in facilitating programs making philosophy more approachable and accessible for students in primary and secondary schools. “It provides students with real skills that will be useful no matter what they do,” Furlane said. “It’s really fulfilling to help plant the seed that can grow over the students’ academic experience throughout the rest of their lives.” 

BUPACT Summer Camp accepted applications from any student entering grades 9-12 in the 2023-2024 school year who was interested in learning more about philosophy and engaging in thoughtful discussions. To apply, interested campers had to complete a brief application with questions focused on their interest in the camp and submit an academic recommendation form. Professor McKittrick-Sweitzer indicated that while the first cohort of scholars was small, the participants came from a diverse set of backgrounds, and the intimate size allowed for these young scholars to engage collaboratively with students who held a variety of perspectives in a comfortable, low-pressure environment.

“Demographics of the students involved are radically different than what we traditionally see in the field of philosophy,” McKittrick-Sweitzer said. “It has been so cool to bring philosophy to a group of people and empower them to do philosophy in a way that historically hasn’t been seen in academia.”

Thanks to additional grant support from Plato and the BUtler Giving Circle, BUPACT will continue to offer young scholars the opportunity to gain exposure to philosophy and critical thinking for summers to come. For additional information on BUPACT and other summer camp opportunities, visit https://butlerartscenter.org/camps/