CANE 2017: “How We Can Make a Difference: Classics, Social Justice and Outreach”

By Dominic Machado and Roberta Stewart.

On July 11 in Providence, RI, we held an hour-long workshop at the Classical Association of New England Summer Institute, called “How We Can Make a Difference: Classics, Social Justice and Outreach.” We hoped to start a conversation about how we as teachers can use the study of antiquity to engage with diverse populations and how our interactions with these populations can enrich the study of Classics. We are glad to report that the event was a success. The workshop had more than thirty participants, roughly half of the Summer Institute’s attendees.

The workshop as advertised in the CANE Summer Institute Brochure:

This workshop will be a discussion of how we as teachers can use the study of antiquity to engage with diverse populations and how our interactions with these populations can enrich our study of the subject. We will focus on what we as classicists can bring to the most marginalized social strata (e.g. minorities, the incarcerated, war veterans, those suffering from disabilities, etc.) as well as how we can work to include the perspectives of such groups in the study of the Classics. The workshop will feature a brief introduction to the Classics and Social Justice initiative as well as two short presentations that will outline our outreach experiences with war veterans and minority groups and share ways to get involved in similar initiatives. The rest of the time will allow participants to share their own experiences working with such populations or to ask questions about getting involved in their own outreach initiatives.

We began the workshop by providing a brief introduction to the Classics and Social Justice initiative and its goals. This was followed by two short presentations in which we discussed our own outreach experiences and offered some thoughts on how to get involved in similar initiatives. Dominic discussed how classicists can make a difference in the country’s educational crisis. He stressed that our knowledge of Latin can be a powerful tool for improving literacy and bringing new educational opportunities to underserved minority communities. He noted that it was essential that this outreach be combined with efforts to make our field more attuned to the unique experiences of these communities (e.g. reading the Aeneid as refugee narrative). Such perspectives are not only tremendously useful for underserved populations, but will produce new and exciting ideas in our field.

Roberta then shared her experiences teaching a class at Dartmouth College called “War Stories.” The course required students to interview a veteran and write a response paper detailing their interaction as a part of their final project. The results showed just how powerful outreach can be. Roberta read excerpts from several final papers which revealed how transformative the experience of interviewing a veteran was for her students. Their preconceived notions of what it meant to be a former soldier were completely shattered. Even more importantly, the responses that Roberta received from veterans were similar in tone; they appreciated the sensitivity and patience of the students who interviewed them and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share their story.

The second half of the workshop took the form of an open discussion. Participants were given the opportunity to share their own experiences working with underserved populations or to ask questions about getting involved in their own outreach initiatives. The discussion was lively, informative and productive. Teachers talked about the barriers that they faced in trying to do outreach in the past. Others responded to these concerns by discussing creative solutions they found to bypass the administrative red-tape that prevented them from taking part in such endeavors. Though the conversation was very wide-ranging, there was one common thread that ran throughout: the participants wanted to learn more about outreach. In fact, the participants encouraged us to conduct a follow-up session at CANE annual meeting this coming March. We are currently putting together a panel proposal for the meeting – we welcome any submissions or suggestions from blog readers – and we hope to continue our discussion about outreach soon!

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