Working with Refugees at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The following piece initially appeared on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA)’s website. It is reposted here with Moira Lavelle’s kind permission. Follow the ASCSA on twitter (@ASCSAthens).

Moira Lavelle

Senior Associate Member Dr. Stephanie Larson has spent much of this past year aiding the needs of the 5th Lyceum School refugee housing and a redistribution center in Exarchia, Athens. Larson got involved with the 5th school when it opened this past spring as the movement of refugees into Greece was at its peak. “It was one of the first shelters set up after the borders closed in central Athens, and it’s close to the School. And I thought that this was something that I could do outside of my academic work and taking care of my family,” explained Larson. “So I just started going down with a group of ex-pat ladies and we were doing art with the kids there, and they were working out some of their experiences in the art. But then I thought: I have a lot of friends that have enough money, we all have enough money, and I should do something more than playing.”

Larson posted a status on her Facebook asking for help, and donations began pouring in. She joined forces with friend and fellow ex-pat Alicia Stallings, a poet and writer who lives in Athens. Together they pool funds given by their friends, family, and the local St Andrews Episcopalian Church in Larson’s home in Lewisburg, PA. “With whatever money I have I buy food usually,” said Larson. “Sometimes I buy formula, diapers. Heaters are now being requested because it’s getting cold out.” The needs of the shelter change week to week: sometimes Larson is asked to bring tea bags, olive oil, and lentils, and the next week the needs have shifted to salt and milk.

With her own personal funds Larson has also adopted a family she met at the 5th school. They had been selected to move a charity apartment in a suburb of Athens, because of mother was pregnant with their sixth child. About once every week or ten days, Larson brings this family fresh vegetables and fruits from the local markets and lately baby items, including a “baby box,” given for free by Allied Aid. I also try to spoil them every once in a while” admitted Larson, “I bring them candy, I bring them chocolate. And I bring my kids every now and then and we play soccer.”

Larson Rogers donations

Dr. Stephanie Larson and Dr. Dylan Rogers with the results of the 2016 donation drive for the 5th Lyceum School refugee housing and redistribution center. 

“I think about it this way—you can provide a little bit for some people. And that’s great and everyone should do that. But you can also provide more for one, or more for five. And to me that’s worth it.” Larson said, “And how do you pick? You don’t really pick, it just happens. I think if I were in that situation I would kind of want one person to just take care of me too.”

The family had been waiting in Athens for their sixth child to be born before their relocation to France could take effect. In the interim they could not work, and the children could not attend school. But the baby was born on November 28th, and the family is likely to be relocated in the coming weeks.  “I had the pleasure of visiting the hospital where the mother gave birth to the baby. I was very lucky to have been there on that day, since the hospital decided that they needed the bed for someone else, and so I was able to help the family with the (appropriately Byzantine) paperwork and I was also able to buy the mother the vitamin drops for the baby requested by the hospital.” Larson commented, “Having had my own children in the luxurious Danville Geisinger medical center and in my own room with my own private bathroom, I was shocked by the idea of sharing a maternity room with 10 other women. The conditions were not great.  The floors were relatively dirty, and although I was there visiting for two hours before we learned that she was being forced to leave, no nurse checked on her a single time.”

refugee art .jpg

“I just started going down with a group of ex-pat ladies and we were doing art with the kids there, and they were working out some of their experiences in the art.”

Larson also helps address ad hoc issues with other volunteers when needs arise for emergency housing or food. This takes many forms: one day Larson helped one woman living in the Orange House shelter sell her handmade jewelry at American Community Schools Holiday Bazaar, another she helped a single mother with four children find emergency housing. “I do those kinds of problem solving when I can,” explained Larson. “And it takes a lot of time as I’m trying to do scholarship and take care of my family, it takes a lot more time than I thought.”

This holiday season, with the help of Assistant Director Dylan Rogers and Research Archivist Leda Costaki, Larson was able to run a food and money drive for refugee aid here at the ASCSA. With the support of our members last week she was able to deliver 262 diapers, 984 baby wipes, 844 tissues, 4.3 k of baby formula, 9.5 k of condensed milk, 3 k of tuna fish, and €1.070 to the 5th school.

“At the end of the year we move back to the U.S., and then our lives will change,” stated Larson. “But I will keep raising money and sending it over, I think that’s the most useful thing I can do.”
If you would like to donate to Dr. Larson’s efforts email her at slarson@bucknell.edu.

Also, our Social Media Manager, Moira Lavelle, is working with LBGTQI+ Refugees Welcome, which is raising funds through their website to help LGBTQI+ refugees here in Athens. All funds donated go directly towards food, clothing, and legal documents. You can contact Moira directly with any questions (Moira.Lavelle@ascsa.edu.gr).

Event: Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity, University of Southern California April 20th-21st 2017

On April 20th and 21st we’re holding an event on Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity at the University of Southern California. At the roundtable (4/20) the speakers will be Nancy Rabinowitz (Hamilton College), Stephanie Balkwill (USC Society of Fellows), Debby Sneed (UCLA). For the workshop (4/21), we’re looking for short papers (5 mins) and/or respondents on topics of ethical engagement. To submit a paper for the workshop, contact Jessica Wright (j.wright@usc.edu). Both the roundtable and the workshop will be live-tweeted @classics_sj. For more information on the Ethical Engagement & the Study of Antiquity event, see the website: http://dornsife.usc.edu/conferences/ethics-antiquity/

Ethics poster

 

CFP – Teaching Leaders and Leadership through Classics: A Virtual Conference, May 8–22, 2017

Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great, engraving, Charles Laplante (1866)

This conference aims at exploring and developing the ways that the study of classical antiquity has been, can be, and should be used as a platform for leadership education in the 21st century. As universities place greater and greater emphasis on their mission to develop students as future leaders, the field of classical studies can become central to the study of leadership and the education of leaders. The primary texts and artifacts we study are often about, for, or by the leaders of their times. Our discipline’s emphasis on textual and visual analysis, narrative, and cultural history aids students in developing the skills of empathy, contextual intelligence, and critical thinking that are the most essential for the success of leaders. We hope that this conference will lead to the development of a new discipline of humanistic leadership studies, with classics leading the vanguard.

This conference will focus on two broad research questions: (1) how can the ancient world improve our appreciation of leadership in general and (2) in what ways does studying the ancient world actually train someone to be a leader? We seek submissions from scholars, teachers, and students who share an interest in ancient leadership writ large: individuals with experience or interest in teaching about leadership in antiquity, as well as those who, through classroom activities, assignments, or other means, attempt to foster leadership skills in their students by means of the study of the ancient world. Our goal is for this conference to become a resource for classics instructors who would like to include leadership development in their future teaching.

We seek contributions addressing the following questions:

  • When we say we are teaching “ancient leadership” or “leadership in the ancient world”, what do we mean?
  • How does teaching leadership through classics differ from leadership education available through other channels, from business courses, to military training, to self-help books, to mentoring, etc.? For example, does classics offer anything to leadership education that any other humanities discipline or interdisciplinary field does not? If so, how much of this is a function of the specific properties of ancient sources, of the history of the discipline of classics, of the role of classics in the modern academy, etc.? How, to what extent, and when should the study of ancient leadership engage with these other modes of leadership education?
  • What was successful or unsuccessful about the Fall 2016 Sunoikisis Ancient Leadership course? How can we improve this course for the future, increase the available course materials, and expand the community of participants? What other leadership courses in classics and humanities have been successful, and why? (We are interested in both faculty and student perspectives.)
  • What are the ways we can foster leadership development in classical studies courses through syllabus design, classroom activities, field trips (e.g. museums, theater, study abroad), and/or assignments?
  • What are the ethical responsibilities we have as leadership educators, and how might those responsibilities affect the material we choose to teach or the ways in which we teach it? What can we learn from ancient educators and advisors of leaders (Aristotle, Seneca, Pliny, Dio of Prusa, etc.) about how to channel theoria within the academy into praxis outside it?
  • What are productive, responsible, and rigorous ways of making connections between ancient leadership and 21st century leadership? How do we model that process for our students, and how to we get them to move beyond simple comparisons?

Virtual Conference Format:

This conference, like the the Sunoikisis Ancient Leadership course, will be a digital, virtual, open access event. We have chosen to use a virtual format for several reasons: lower costs for participants and organizers; reduced environmental impact; greater accessibility to a global audience, especially those who cannot normally attend a physical conference on account of limited mobility or limited resources; more open dissemination of ideas; and more opportunity for thoughtful, productive discussion. We are adapting the model of the nearly carbon-neutral (NCN) conference developed by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Environmental Humanities Institute (see here: http://ehc.english.ucsb.edu/?page_id=12687).

The conference will exist as a website, which will launch on May 8, 2017, and will be available after the end of the conference period on May 22, 2017. Contributions will consist of pre-recorded 15–17 minute video presentations; participants are encouraged, though not required, to submit a full text of their presentation to facilitate discussion and future reference. These will be organized into panel sub-pages, with each panel containing 3–5 videos. Each panel will have a discussion feed, which will be open from May 8–22 to pre-registered participants. Contributors will be expected to engage in the discussion feeds throughout the conference period. We also plan to have occasional synchronous discussions via Google Hangouts during the conference. Individuals whose abstracts are accepted will be given technical support for recording and uploading submissions.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should submitted no later than March 18, 2017 to teachingleadershipthruclassics@gmail.com. Any questions about the conference can also be directed to this email.

Program Committee:

Mallory Monaco Caterine, Tulane University (chair)

Joel Christensen, Brandeis University

John Esposito, 6st Technologies

Victoria Györi, King’s College London

Ulrike Krotschek, The Evergreen State College

Jonathan MacLellan, University of Texas-San Antonio

Norman Sandridge, Howard University

Lindsay Samson, Georgia State University and Spelman College

American Veterans for the National Endowment for the Humanities

Author: Peter Meineck (@PeterMeineck).

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We have all heard that the National Endowments for the Humanities and Arts are both facing extinction by the new Trump administration. Although, we know nothing concrete yet it seems as if the White House has been heavily influenced by a 2016 report from the Heritage Foundation, that states:

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly journals, regardless of the works’ attraction or merit. In the words of Citizens Against Government Waste, “actors, artists, and academics are no more deserving of subsidies than their counterparts in other fields; the federal government should refrain from funding all of them.”

This is truly alarming and mischaracterizes the essential work that both agencies undertake nationally throughout all 50 states. With this in mind, on Saturday February 25th the Society of Artistic Veterans along with Aquila Theatre’s Warrior Chorus program (which is funded by the NEH – http://www.warriorchorus.org/ ) held a public event in Battery Park, New York City to bring awareness to the NEH’s role in funding Veteran’s programs. Called American Veterans for the National Endowment for the Humanities this event gathered 16 former and serving members of the Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy to perform a simple yet powerful act – public readings on the theme of democracy.

The readings included several from classical literature, including excerpts from Herodotus, Thucydides, Sophocles; Oedipus Tyrannus, Euripides’ Suppliant Women, and Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians, alongside readings from de Tocqueville, Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Booker T. Washington and Robert F. Kennedy.

The setting was more than appropriate as Battery Park is a storied location in American history: it was the last place the British held before leaving their former colony after the American War of Independence, and Castle Clinton, which stood opposite the event, was the entry point for millions of immigrants entering the United States for the first time. The park also looks over Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, with the World Trade Center close by. These symbols have taken on a powerful new resonance over the past few weeks and hearing this diverse group of American veterans reading literature and rhetoric on the meaning of democracy was indeed a powerful experience, especially in this age of incendiary discourse generated by 140 characters, hateful slogans, and double-speak sound bites.

The Vets read their scenes three times from 1pm to 4pm and attracted an enthusiastic crowd of supporters as well as many passers-by. Some 500 flyers were distributed and the event was widely circulated on social media. We are now planning another such event in Washington DC and encouraging the Warrior Chorus groups in Texas and California to stage similar gatherings. The readings will be posted on-line at – http://www.warriorchorus.org/ so that others may download and use them in their own local areas.

Veterans occupy a unique position in American society at the moment in that they are perhaps among the few groups that can bridge the enormous gulf between the Left and Right in American culture. Having served their country and been deployed in war zones, many of them feel very strongly about their oath to protect and preserve the constitution, civil rights, diversity, and free-speech. Arming them with classical literature and the American rhetoric and hearing them recite it live and in public makes for a very powerful statement about the need to defend democratic institutions. The sign of one member of the crowd captured this perfectly by quoting John Jays: “Knowledge is essential for the survival of the republic.”

Two moments to highlight: Vietnam Veteran, former Marine and well-known actor Dan Lauria (the father on The Wonder Years) made a powerful comment about what may lurk beneath the move to shut down the NEA and NEH, namely the removal of the tax deduction given to donations to arts and humanities organizations. Lauria compared this to nothing less than “Nazi book burning” in that it would devastate the Arts and public humanities. The second was one of many spine tingling moments when the words spoken by the Vets took on a specific resonance. James Stanton, a former Air Combat Command B-52 Squadron Commander, part of the so called “Nuclear Triad”, read the speech that RFK gave in Indianapolis on April 4th 1968, the night MLK was murdered. After quoting Aeschylus, the speech closes with these words:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

This project also intersects with Aquila Theatre’s next production Our Trojan War, which restages scenes from Homer and ancient drama alongside the original works of veterans to ask fundamental questions about democracy, inclusiveness, leadership and the treatment of others. This will be presented on a short national tour in March 2017 and then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in April 19-23, 2017.

If you have Vets in your classroom/communities, encourage them to speak about their feelings about democracy and what they fought for. Use classical texts as a means of framing productive and informed dialogue about important themes – leadership, ethics, diversity, refugees, nationalism, federalism, division, war, diplomacy, bigotry, free speech, and knowledge. This is a time when classicists can provide depth, context, exemplars and meaning and above all start to shift the public discourse away from the slogan and back towards knowledge, nuance, complexity and compromise.

Peter Meineck
Professor of Classics in the Modern World, New York University
Founding Director, Aquila Theatre.

Statement of Support

The sub-group on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Chronic Illness of the Classics and Social Justice group affirms its support for The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that all children with disabilities have equal opportunity to public education. Research shows that students with learning disabilities like dyslexia have especially benefited from learning Latin. As a result of our extensive experience with these students, teachers of Latin and other classical subjects recognize the vital necessity of the law that protects their rights in the classroom. We also affirm our support for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects postsecondary students with disabilities from discrimination. In light of the Education Secretary’s professed ignorance of IDEA and the alarming increase in the public mocking and stigmatizing of those with physical and mental disabilities, we must renew our commitment to making classical studies accessible to all.

LGBT History Project North East – Public Talks day

Author: Chris Mowat (@chrismologos)

lgbt-history-project

Drew Dalton (@DrewDalton1980) of the LGBT History project (@LGBTHistoryNE) addresses the audience.

This weekend, the LGBT History Project North East team put on a day of public talks at Newcastle Civic Centre (UK). There was a diverse range of presentation by both academics and non-academics on the history – as well as the present and the future – of LGBT+ and minority sexualities.

The Project makes its aims very clear from its tagline: “No longer edited, covered up or erased”. Gender and sexually diverse people have always been on the margins of history, passed over for a focus on the mainstream. This was particularly evident from Liz Rees’ discussion of Jennie Gray, born in Gateshead as Robert Coulthard in 1887. Through archive work, Rees was able to pull moments of Gray/Coulthard’s life, mostly newspapers talking of “his” arrest for “loitering in women’s clothing”. It is unfortunate, however, that it was only these moments of public “unmasking” that we are able to glimpse their life. Other talks took a more intimate nature, with people sharing their personal histories, and engagement with the LGBT+ community. You can find a storify of some of the live-tweets from the day here.

One thing that I am taking away from the event – beyond the knowledge directly shared – is the importance of validation. A few of the talks discussed representation and its importance for bringing understanding and acceptance for LGBT people (which, as keynote Lisa Power MBE put it, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this sh*t”). But this is something that goes both ways, too: validation is something that makes us feel more confident in ourselves and who we are. It is perhaps easy to forget, when we are discussing the deep detail of whether Greek and Roman societies were “before sexuality” – and what that even means – that history and the classics can bring that validation. When an overview of bisexuality in history (briefly) mentioned that “even Achilles had a boyfriend”, the room was fascinated to hear an aspect of Homer’s poetry that is clearly less seen by the public eye. In academia, we can argue the precise status (and perhaps ambiguity) of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship, but we should not forget that that the very basis of that discussion can bring a sense of normalcy to someone who might otherwise feel alone, different or unaccepted by society.

The Classics can be brought to the public, at any level, to help them find themselves. That chance to see someone like yourself in the history books should not be underestimated. The LGBT+ community has come a long way in the past couple of decades, but now as much as ever its position of acceptance is precarious. History and the Classics can bring a strength to that community, another voice validating identities past and present: we’re here, we’re queer and we always have been.

I am not disabled.

Author: Debby Sneed

Louvre CA.jpg

A man, leaning on a crutch or cane, converses with a nude dwarf on an early 5th century aryballos by the Clinic Painter (Paris, Louvre CA 2183).

I am not disabled.

I have never before had to “out” myself, for anything. But since I began researching disability in ancient Greece, I have become self-conscious about my able-bodiedness. Through my research I know and appreciate that modern identity is different from ancient identity, that there is no way to trace a continuity of identity from past to present, and that modern identity categories, with their attendant attitudes, expectations, and experiences, cannot be transported into the past. If my modern identity is technically irrelevant to the past identities that I’m studying, why do I feel like it matters?

It seems like every book or article by a disability studies scholar starts with an explicit statement of the author’s identity, establishing why they are enfranchised in the debate. It makes me doubt that I can say something meaningful if I am not disabled and am not close with anyone who is, or that I should even try. A lot of my colleagues who study identity or historically marginalized societies are sensitive to the kinds of issues I myself am having, but it’s difficult to articulate why.

My most recent discomfort can be traced to two problems. One is easier to articulate and is ethical in nature. I’ve been applying for a lot of fellowships and grants lately and I’m worried that people will assume that I’m disabled. Here is an actual paragraph from a recent application I submitted for a fellowship:

Research into ancient perspectives on disability can also help broaden the modern academic field of view. Two significant corollaries of identity studies are, first, that the identities of modern researchers affect the questions they ask and the interpretations they accept and, second, that researchers tend to study those aspects of the past that they themselves are familiar with in the present. By these tokens, the diversity of modern researchers is critical for progress. This is as true of archaeology as of any other discipline, but because archaeology is such a physically and emotionally demanding field of study, it is not considered accessible to or by students with mental and/or physical disabilities. This stereotype prevents people with disabilities from pursuing archaeology and the lack of the physical presence of disability in classrooms, on excavations, and in academia generally means that research agendas do not typically integrate questions about disability, its material correlates, and its lived experience in the past. My project not only incorporates disabled members of ancient Greek populations into broader considerations of ancient history, but also has the potential to highlight the intellectual space available for disabled students within Classics and archaeology.

Please ignore that it’s long-winded and consider how much it could sound like I am disabled and I want to increase the visibility of people like me in academia. With every application I twist myself into knots trying to find a way to make it clear that I’m not disabled. I struggle with the possibility that someone might read my application and give me additional consideration or even award me a fellowship because they think they’re giving it to someone who’s disabled. I want to be woke to the issues that disabled academics face without pulling a Rachel Dolezal and benefitting from a minority identity that I do not have. But how do you say “I am not disabled” in a non-weird way? (Seriously, how do you? I’m open to suggestions.)

The second problem is more difficult to explain. As someone who is not disabled, I cannot understand what it means to be disabled, most especially in terms of the barriers that disabled people face as they attempt to exist in an able-bodied world. I can imagine problems, such as how stairs would be prohibitive to people who use wheelchairs, but I cannot really understand what it means to live every day with a visible or invisible disability. And no matter how many books and articles I read by disabled people, I will never understand it, not really.

This is a problem for me as a researcher because it means that I am more limited in what kinds of questions I can ask and interpretations I can come up with. Let me give you an example. Right now I am working on a conference paper in which I argue that ancient Greek architects took account of mobility-impaired visitors to religious sanctuaries when they constructed a building’s entrance with either stairs or a ramp. Ramps in general have not received serious scholarly attention and, in fact, sometimes architectural plans of ancient temples leave off the ramps altogether, as if they are not an integral feature of the structure. I attribute this gap in scholarship to the able-bodiedness of the field: most of us have never actively thought about how we get in and out of buildings and, because we don’t think about it for ourselves, we don’t often think about it for the ancients. My research into disability studies makes me more aware of disability issues than the average scholar and it wasn’t a big step for me to consider access when I looked at ancient Greek architecture. But my ability to think about what would or would not have been relevant for disabled ancient Greeks is limited to what I can read about, which is further limited to what folks in disability studies write about.

These problems are not surmountable, and there are surely more than two anyway, but these are two I have encountered recently.

I don’t have answers, but I am confident about a few things:

  • I can say something about disability in ancient Greece that is not just valid, but also meaningful, as long as I am sensitive and diligent about incorporating appropriate theories and methodologies.
  • I don’t have to identify as disabled in order to do justice to disability in the past. With disability comes a concept of normalcy, and everyone has a stake in that, just like everyone has a stake in gender.
  • I am not responsible for the assumption that the only people who study disability in the past are themselves disabled. Still, I am aware that it exists and that I must be careful not to imply that I am something that I am not.

A disabled scholar would write a different dissertation, but it’s not just because of their disability, it’s because of their myriad life experiences that I didn’t have. Given the politics of identity, though, I think it’s important to be upfront and also self-reflexive, to think about the problems of your own identity and how it affects your research program.