Some Concrete Suggestions post-SCS by Yurie Hong

The racist incidents at the SCS in San Diego prompted many strong reactions ranging from shock and surprise to anger and despair as well as skepticism and dismissiveness. Many have already written statements and responses to the incidents (there’s a great roundup on the SCS blog here.) Outrage at the outrageous is appropriate and ‘hard conversations’ are good, but for any of this to matter, feelings must be funnelled into concrete action. The question that, I hope, is on everyone’s mind is, “What can we actually do to change things?”

The following is an excerpt of an email that I sent a few days after the conference to panel members and SCS leadership. I was heartened by their immediate and positive responses, and my impression from the SCS leaders who contacted me was that they were eager to hear more suggestions about what else they could do in both the short and long term. What follows has been lightly revised in response to feedback from members of the Classics and Social Justice group and recent announcements from the SCS. I’m sharing here with the hope that it can spur us all to continue to think creatively and proactively about what we can do — as individuals, department members, and members of professional organizations — to make the structural and cultural changes necessary for our field to be as inclusive, just, and intellectually vibrant as it can be.


As the major professional organization in North America, the SCS has tremendous power to shape the field – its mission, its makeup, and its practices – going forward. The SCS website could be a repository for or gateway to resources for all individuals and departments who would like to shift our field away from white supremacist and colonialist discourses.

The following is not a comprehensive list, but here are some examples of things that I would like to see:

  1. A clarifying statement about our field – what it has been and what it would like its role in the world to be. It would be great to include some language about how the field of Classics is enriched by the perspectives of people who have not always been part of the scholarly discourse – people of color, women, gender/sexual minorities, first-generation scholars, etc. – *because of* and not in spite of these backgrounds and identities, as Dan-el states so powerfully in his piece in the Medium: “my black being-in-the-world makes it possible for me to ask new and different questions within the field, to inhabit new and different approaches to answering them, and to forge alliances with other scholars past and present whose black being-in-the-world has cleared the way for my leap into the breach.”
  2. A statement on diversity and hiring.
    On the above point, I don’t know how/where/if it could be stated but, in this era where seemingly all institutions expect professors to care about teaching as well as research, I would love to get the idea out there that diversity in the field should be valued and taken seriously as a factor in hiring, whether for visiting or tenure track positions.
    A hiring rubric, for example, could be boiled down to 3 more or less equally weighted components: 1. Teaching (quality/methods, experience, and potential), 2. Research, 3. Contribution to/Support for Diversity (e.g. in/out of the classroom, via research, and/or simply being a member of a non-majority group). Not only is this the right thing to do for all the pedagogical and intellectual value-added, it’s also a practical consideration given the demographic shifts in this country and increasing demands from students for a more diverse faculty.
    Best practices for mentoring and supporting junior faculty of color, who often face many structural barriers, such as carrying a heavier service and mentoring load, would also be welcome. In particular, departments and institutions could commit to counting this type of service more in tenure and promotion decisions or offer teaching relief or fellowship opportunities so as to assist in publication.
  3. Easy to find links to affiliated groups and committees that focus on diversity, such as the WCC, LCC, EOS, Classics and Social Justice, COGSIP, Mountain Top, etc. on the SCS website. Given that these groups are officially affiliated with the SCS and are already listed in the program, acknowledging them on the website would not only send a message about what the SCS is about; it would make it easier for undergrad/grad students, junior faculty, etc. to find those groups. (I think they’re on the website somewhere, but I can only find them by googling.) Affiliated group webpages could also house tips and guidelines of interest to their membership (see below).
  4. Guidelines for revising departmental webpages and course descriptions so as not to perpetuate harmful messages about ‘Western civilization’ and ‘The Canon’. This document could be housed under the Resources menu on the website and listed much like the “Tips for Teaching and Classics Research.”
    Maybe something akin to this style guide. I’m sure there are a number of blogposts that could be used as the basis for these guidelines. Here’s a link to Rebecca Kennedy’s handout for the ‘Centering the Margins’ panel, which contains comparisons of old and new versions of her course description.
  5. Some kind of diversity training/guidelines for journal editors and editorial boards? I don’t have much to add here but it’s obviously, as Dan-el demonstrated in his talk, something that should be addressed in a structural way.

Some of these things are more difficult and time-consuming than others, but I suspect that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here. We’ll never win over some people, but I have to believe that there’s a decent chunk of people at various stages of their careers who, for a lot of different reasons, just honestly don’t know that some of the go-to arguments about the value of our field can also contribute to white supremacist and colonialist discourse but would be willing to make some changes if they knew how to go about it.

I’m not under any illusion that such guidelines or statements will by themselves fix anything, but they can normalize a set of shared values and establish institutional protocols that can be useful. Case in point: the woman at the meeting was kicked out for violating SCS standards of behavior. Would that have happened if we didn’t have a code of conduct? I’m not really sure.

Anyway, all this to say that, for all the awfulness that occurred at the conference, I find it heartening that there are people who are working wholeheartedly and publicly for change. I’ve learned a lot from social media and these public conversations, much of which has made it into my own classes, departmental webpage/curriculum revisions, hiring committee meetings, etc. Information and resource-sharing so that people can make the structural and cultural changes where they can is how we change the way classics is done and what it will be in future. Thanks for reading.


While the SCS is mulling over those suggestions, here are some other things that individuals can do to make change:

  1. Support The Sportula – donate, tell students and faculty about The Sportula, encourage especially young classicists of color to participate in the Naked Soul conference in June.
  2. Get informed. If you haven’t already, check out Mathura Umachandran, Yung In Chae Helen Wong, and Stefani Echeverría-Fenn and Djesika Bèl Watson on the experience of being a classicist of color as well as this podcast with Jackie Murray; Sarah Derbew and Sarah Bond’s work on race, racism, and ancient art, Rebecca Kennedy’’s very thorough website complete with teaching resources, and Donna Zuckerberg’s essay on what the role of classicists in a world that is still awash with racism and sexism and how to support scholars who are being harassed here and here.
  3. Look at the course descriptions and messaging in your own classes. A good place to start is Rebecca Kennedy’s Resources for Teaching Race, Ethnicity, Immigration, and Marginality in Classical Antiquity and materials from the Centering the Margins panel. It’s okay to start small but start somewhere and commit to building on those efforts as an ongoing project.
  4. Contact conference organizers and ask them to contact hotels in advance and tell them that you expect their staff to not racially profile people – not only potential conference attendees but everyone. Feel free to use/adapt this script:

“Dear X,

I’m sure you have plenty to do in planning/preparing Y conference. I was hoping, though, that you could contact the conference hotel and ask them to ensure that their staff have received appropriate diversity/implicit bias training. There have been a number of incidents where scholars of color have been racially profiled at professional conferences. We need to let hotels know that this is unacceptable and that we expect them to have protocols in place to ensure that such incidents do not occur.”

  1. When inviting speakers to campus, actively seek out speakers from historically underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds.
  2. Encourage your department to put out a statement, such as the one put out by University of Washington Department of Classics.
  3. Make it a priority in your department to revise departmental descriptions that give the impression that ancient cultures were inherently better than all others or that Greece and Rome were the first and best sources for all this is good in the world.
  4. Have your department convene a workshop or discussion series for faculty and students to talk about what classics means in the world and how we should talk about our field those outside it. We shouldn’t shy away from talking openly with our students about the history of our field and how various groups have used it for just and unjust ends. They are a part of our field and they deserve to be given the knowledge and opportunity to engage seriously with

This not at all a comprehensive list by any stretch but just some ideas to get started. Big changes are the result of lots of smaller individual acts. So if professional equity and justice matter to you (and I hope it does), pick a thing to do and just start doing it. There will always be more to do and not a single one of us will get all the things right all the time, but we have to start somewhere.

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Report on CSJ related events at the SCS 2019, Nancy S. Rabinowitz

This was a roller-coaster of a meeting, starting with a high of the Luis Alfaro lecture, ending with the very powerful prison workshop. But in between the SCS was the site of some very public racist incidents. Thus CSJ can’t rest on its laurels.

But here I want to accentuate the positive. Following the very successful appearance of Rhodessa Jones and the Medea Project at the San Francisco SCS, it seemed like a good idea to have such an event in San Diego. Luis Alfaro was the perfect choice for this Southern California meeting.

A Chicano born and raised in the Pico-Union district of downtown Los Angeles, Alfaro is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, popularly known as a “genius grant”, awarded to people who have demonstrated expertise and exceptional creativity in their respective fields. He is the first Playwright-in-Residence in the 84-year history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the largest repertory theatre company in the United States, serving for six seasons (2013-2019).*

*Cited from Luis Alfaro.

The SCS and Onassis Foundation USA enthusiastically co-presented the Luis Alfaro lecture on opening night, From the Ancient to the Streets of L.A.: Imagining the Greek Classics for Communities Today. Alfaro is a committed activist, poet, performance artist, playwright and faculty member at USC. Of special interest to us at Classics and Social Justice, he unites both the terms in our name. He has used the Greek tragedies (Oedipus, Sophocles’ Electra, and Medea) as the basis for his own plays, Oedipus el Rey, Electricidad, Mojada. The event was electrifying (pun intended) as Alfaro discussed the ways in which he envisions his plays creating community. Born in E. LA, many of his scripts are set in the barrio, but they are also produced nationally. In those cases, he told us, he spends up to a year in the cities where they will be performed, engaging local people in the project. This means that the actual performance truly represents the voices of the people. In listening to the concerns of those who will be in the audience, Alfaro’s work demonstrates what real “diversity” can look like. He illuminates the importance of the arts and the classics in social change. He ended with a peroration to the importance of love and family in the myths. The event was an inspiration for the standing-room only audience as to how the materials in the Classics curriculum can be used for radical purposes.

A panel the following morning (with presentations by Mary Hart, Amy Richlin, Tom Hawkins, Rosa Andújar, Jessica Kubzansky, and Melinda Powers) examined Alfaro’s work from both scholarly and artistic points of view. It introduced his plays to some who had perhaps never heard of him and gave insight to those of us who teach his work regularly.

Finally, on the last day, the Classics and Social Justice Prison Group sponsored a workshop on “Teaching the Incarcerated.” Chaired by Elizabeth Bobrick, there were five other very brief papers (presented by Nancy Felson [in absentia], Alex Pappas, Nancy Rabinowitz, Sarah Rappe, Jessica Wright), followed by a very full discussion of the issues that the opening statements brought up. It soon became clear that there is no one model for teaching in prison, any more than there is one model for college teaching itself. The workshop participants will be posting resources on the Classics and Social Justice blog, as they become available. The Classics and Social Justice Group will continue to try to bring together those who are doing this work.

To return to the roller coaster, however, these events are a drop in the bucket. We cannot, as the song says, simply eliminate the negative without hard work. There is much to be done, and thanks to colleagues who are leading the struggle to bring Classics into the present and perhaps into the future.

Nancy S. Rabinowitz,
Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

Editor’s addition: Luis Alfaro’s opening night lecture, and the panel the next day on his work were live tweeted by Benjamin Stevens (@beldonstevens) and Hannah Čulík-Baird (@opietasanimi) respectively. See below:

CFP: “Naked Soul: A conference for all of us” by The Sportula

Reposted from The Sportula (@Libertinopatren) with permission.

THE SPORTULA IS BACK!!!

As many of you have heard, at the SCS we experienced and act of anti-Black racial profiling against our co-director Djesika. When we posted the part we recorded online, it got 18k hits and racist trolls started deluging our account and DMs. The SCS fully supported us, but we are also socially anxious and need to hide a bit before we decide what to do.

Thank you for all the support!

We will have our backlog cleared by tonight, students waiting on grants!

And we are making OUR OWN CONFERENCE in response!

Called Naked Soul…

  1. After the end of Plato’s Gorgias – a dream of being judged by our works not our bodies (Gorgias 523a-527c)
  2. Reference to Prof. Padilla Peralta’s article asking why we are expected to sever our mind from our body as POC academics?
  3. Tongue in cheek allusion to “soul” as associated w/ Blackness and our desire for this conference to nakedly/unabashedly invite us to confront our racism and CELEBRATE AND CENTER BLACK EXCELLENCE.

Please share our CFP widely!

We will not be inviting individual ppl because we don’t want to pressure already hyper-visible POC to do even more unpaid labor. So consider this yr invitation!

 

Are you a classicist at any stage of your career?
(From high school to tenured professor!)

Do you self-identify as part of a group that’s faced structural barriers to educational success? (e.g. BIPOC*, disabled, LGBTQ+, working class, student parent…)

This is a conference BY us and FOR us, to showcase our excellence!

IT WILL BE ONLINE: SATURDAY, JUNE 22ND.
Students: Get your papers read/developed w/ UC Berkeley PhD students!
Professors: show the next gen the brilliance of classicists like us!

Call for papers!
CFP: Paper presentations (OR creative performances like poetry/art)
15/20 mins in length, on any classical topic

Submissions and questions: libertinopatrenatus@gmail.com

Hosted by The Sportula (twitter.com/libertinopatren)

*BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color, including mixed ppl

Classics and Social Justice at SCS 2019, San Diego.

Events relevant to the Classics and Social Justice Group at SCS 2019.

Thursday 8:15-9:30 p.m. Luis Alfaro, performance artist, playwright, poet and activist: “From the Ancient to the Streets of L.A.: Imagining the Greek Classics for Communities Today.”

Related events:

Friday 8-10:30 a.m. Session 11: Theatre and Social Justice: The Work of Luis Alfaro.

Friday 5-6:15 Open Meeting of Classics and Social Justice Affiliated Group, Tecumseh 4.

Sunday 11:45-1:45 Workshop: Classics and the Incarcerated: Methods of Engagement.

It promises to be an exciting meeting!

 

 

Classics and Social Justice Mentorship Program

The new Intersectional Mentoring Program was initiated by the SCS Classics and Social Justice Affiliated Group as an expansion of the Women’s Classical Caucus mentoring program, and in collaboration with the Mountaintop Affiliated Group, the Lambda Classical Caucus, and Sportula. Advisors from these groups will continue to oversee the program.

MENTORSHIP FORM

After you have filled out this form, you will be matched by a member of the mentoring board and introduced to your mentor/mentee. You can expect an initial response to your query within a month. Write to mracettecamp@mun.ca with concerns.

The mentoring relationship will end after a year unless both parties decide to renew.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact:

Melissa Funke (WCC Mentoring Co-Chair, 2017-18): m.funke@uwinnipeg.ca

Melanie Racette-Campbell (WCC Mentoring Co-Chair, 2018-2019): mracettecamp@mun.ca

Liaisons: Mountaintop/LCC/CSJ Sanjaya Thakur (Sanjaya.Thakur@ColoradoCollege.edu), Daniel Leon Ruiz (dleon@illinois.edu), Deborah Kamen (dkamen@u.washington.edu), Nancy Rabinowitz (nrabinow@hamilton.edu)

Slack for classicists with disabilities

Email Clara Bosak-Schroeder <cbosak@illinois.edu> to join a slack workspace for students, scholars, and instructors in classics, Greek and Roman history, classical archeology, or classical art history with disabilities, neurodiversities, and chronic illness of all kinds.

Members workshop problems, share research, and give each other support. Postings are private. Display names can be anonymous.

Notes from CSJ meeting at CAAS 2018

Notes from Nancy Rabinowitz on the Classics and Social Justice meeting from CAAS 2018:

We had an informal meeting (very late!) at CAAS Oct. 4-6, 2018; about 10 people showed up. The conversation was wide-ranging and there were lots of ideas! We announced the new mentoring program and shared a link to the form. We’ll be sending that out soon.

  • First the question of Public Humanities came up, how to be better at it, how to use the media to counter the white supremacy narrative. Could we get a reporter to come to the meetings in San Diego?
  • Another idea was a volume on Race and Justice in Classics. This could be part of a series that Routledge approached Fiona McHardy and me about.
  • There was enthusiasm for more local events, maybe around a speaker or just drinks. More communication!
  • Thinking bigger, the idea of a conference was floated, and Leah Himmelhoch volunteered to look into whether Hobart and William Smith might host a conference on Classics and Social Justice.
  • Ideas for the blog: a message board, or a discussion board and using zoom for virtual gatherings.