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:
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.”
- When inviting speakers to campus, actively seek out speakers from historically underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds.
- Encourage your department to put out a statement, such as the one put out by University of Washington Department of Classics.
- 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.
- 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.