Petition to CAMWS Leadership around the Proposed BYU 2023 Meeting

Dear President Faulkner and members of the Executive Committee,

We write to express our dismay at the CAMWS Executive Committee’s decision to hold the 2023 annual meeting at Brigham Young University. We call on you to reverse this decision.

Many of us are current or former CAMWS members.  But all of us in the profession are united in our conviction that our discipline’s professional meetings must be places where everyone feels welcome and safe.  CAMWS embraces this value, too, stating at the very top of its Code of Conduct that: “We are committed to providing a safe, productive, and welcoming environment for all who participate in our meetings.”  But BYU, because of its policies and practices, cannot provide a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ individuals.

We urge you to do the right thing.  Commit to holding all 2023 conference events at an off-campus venue (as we previously requested) and announce such plans soon, so that all your members can be confident that CAMWS has a place for them.

Sincerely,

Please scroll down to add your name to the petition

Note to signatories: thanks for signing this petition!  We also encourage you to do some or all of the following:

  • Write an individual letter of concern to the CAMWS president, Andrew Faulkner (president@camws.org and executivecommittee@camws.org) — you could use the text of this petition as a model, or talk about how disappointed you are about the direction CAMWS is going based on your past positive CAMWS experiences, etc. If you are a member of CAMWS, please mention that in your letter.
  • Ask your department or chair to write such a letter or issue a public statement
  • Ask your department to cancel its institutional membership in CAMWS
  • Resign your committee membership or other position in CAMWS
  • Read and share this graduate student petition (and sign it, if you are a graduate student)

We appreciate your standing with us in solidarity!

Signatories

Amy Pistone University of Notre Dame
Mark Masterson
Senior Lecture of Classics, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Nancy S. Rabinowitz
Hamilton College, Professor of Comparative Literature
Sarah Levin-Richardson
Assistant Prof. of Classics, U of Washington, LCC Co-chair
Deborah Kamen
Associate Professor of Classics, University of Washington
Dr. Daniel Libatique, Ph.D.
Eric Beckman Indiana University
Brett M. Rogers
Associate Professor of Classics, Board Member in Gender & Queer Studies, University of Puget Sound
Jeremy Swist University of Iowa
Jerise Fogel
Classics and Humanities Dept, Montclair State University
Joy E. Reeber University of Arkansas
Chatles Platter
Professor of Classics, University of Georgia
Arum Park
Assistant Professor, University of Arizona
Rebecca Karl Professor NYU
Alicia Matz Boston University
Diane Arnson Svarlien Independent
Nathan S. Dennis
Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies, University of San Francisco
Kathryn Topper University of Washington
Darcy Krasne Columbia University
Marina Haworth
North Hennepin Community College
Jeffrey A. Becker
Binghamton University – SUNY
Cassandra Casias
Rhodora G. Vennarucci University of Arkansas
Sarah Culpepper Stroup
Associate Professor, Classics, University of Washington Seattle
Sarah Brucia Breitenfeld
Graduate student at the University of Washington
Preston Bannard
Sally Winchester retired classicist
Evan Jewell Columbia University
Jacquelyn Clements Getty Research Institute
Richard Thomas Harvard University
Jorge J Bravo III
Associate Professor of Classics, University of Maryland
Aaron Poochigian
Donna Zuckerberg
Ruby Blondell University of Washington
Seth L. Schein
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis
Jonathan W Miller
Erika Weiberg Florida State University
Judith P Hallett
University of Maryland, College Park
Bruce M. King Gallatin/NYU
Alexander Kirichenko
Humboldt University, Berlin
Zoé Elise Thomas
University of Texas at Austin
Joel P. Christensen Brandeis University
James Uden
Associate Professor, Boston University
Hannah Culik-Baird
Danielle La Londe
Assistant Professor of Classical Studies, Centre College
Emily Jusino
Kristina Killgrove, PhD, RPA
Dept of Anthropology, UNC Chapel Hill
Rachel Lesser
Assistant Professor, Gettysburg College
Rebecca Kennedy—CAMWS member since 2002
Zachary Herz
Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Colorado Boulder
Kristen Ehrhardt
Associate Professor, John Carroll University
Alex Dressler
Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Angela Ziskowski
Associate Professor of History
John Dugan University at Buffalo
Lauri Reitzammer
Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder
Katherine R. De Boer Xavier University
Sara Ahbel-Rappe
Professor of Greek and Latin University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Evelyn Adkins
Joseph Burkhart St. Olaf College
Diana
Alison Traweek
Ian Nurmi Boston University
Prudence Jones
Professor, Montclair State University
Catherine Chase
Graduate Student, University of Washington
Lauren Curtis Bard College
Clara Bosak-Schroeder
Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Janet Mowat
Tara Mulder Vassar College
Justin G
Joseph Sowerby Thomas
MA Classics University of Manchester
Christopher Polt
Assistant Professor, Boston College
Sharon L. James UNC Chapel Hill
Kira Jones Emory University
Lauren Ginsberg
Associate Professor of Classics, University of Cincinnati
T. H. M. Gellar-Goad
Assistant Professor of Classics and Zachary T. Smith Fellow, Wake Forest University
Sheena Finnigan UW-Madison
Danielle Kellogg
Associate Professor of Classics, Brooklyn College CUNY
Jeanne M. Neumann
Davidson College, Professor of Classics
Rachel Hart, Ph.D.
Michael Spires
Jake Sawyer
Graduate Student, University of Colorado, Boulder
Emily Goetz
Stephanie Larson Bucknell University
Jason Nethercut
University of South Florida
Ellen O’Gorman University of Bristol
Jason Nethercut
Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of South Florida
Danielle Martin
Latin Teacher, Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences
Mathias Hanses Penn State University
Luke Madson
Rutgers (Graduate Student)
Ian Fielding
Assistant Professor of Classical Studies, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
Ginny Lindzey
Dripping Springs High School
Heather Waddell, Assistant Professor of Greek & Roman Studies
Concordia College – Moorhead, MN
Lucy McInerney
Graduate Student, Brown University
Lisl Walsh
Associate Professor and Chair of Classics, Beloit College, WCC co-chair
Chiara Sulprizio
Senior Lecturer in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, Vanderbilt University
Sarah Blake York University
Sierra Schiano
MA student, University of Colorado, Boulder
Dora Gao
University of British Columbia
Robert Groves
Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Arizona
John M. Oksanish
Assoc. Professor of Classics, Wake Forest
Dr. Debby Sneed
Melissa Bailey Kutner
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Gina Soter University of Michigan
Daniel P. Diffendale University of Missouri
Kendra Eshleman Boston College
Carol Atack University of Oxford
Ana Maria Guay Graduate Student, UCLA
Shannon DuBois
Matthew Scarborough
Research Associate, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Anna Simas
Thomas L. Salisbury
Nathalie Roy
Glasgow Middle School, Baton Rouge, LA
Julie Levy Boston University
Meghan Kelly
Dani Bostick
Maxwell Paule Earlham College
Barbara Gold
Edward North Professor of Classics Emerita, Hamilton College (and CAMWS member)
Joshua Reno
PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota
Jenn Galczenski
Caitlin Hines Wake Forest University
Lauri Dabbieri Sidwell Friends School
Mark Alonge
Boston University Academy
David J. Wright Fordham University
Stephanie McCarter
Associate Professor of Classics, University of the South, Sewanee
Diana Ng
Jennifer Gerrish College of Charleston
Ronnie Ancona
Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center
William Duffu Alamo Colleges
Ulrike Krotscheck
The Evergreen State College
Jennifer Luongo
Latin Teacher, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School
Barbara A. Olsen
Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies, Vassar College
James J. O’Hara UNC Chapel Hill
Andrew Rist
Norman Sandridge Howard University
Katherine Dennis Princeton University
Leah Himmelhoch
Associate Professor, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Mark Thatcher Boston College
Jeffrey Henderson Boston University
Hanne Eisenfeld
Assistant Professor, Boston College
Lisa Maurizio Bates College
Caroline Bishop
Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University, member of CAMWS and COGSIP
Deborah Lyons Miami University (Oh)
Derek Counts
Univeristy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Rachel Mazzara
Graduate Student, University of Toronto
Leah Himmelhoch
Associate Professor, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Michael Goyette
Jackie Murray
Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky
Molly Jones-Lewis
Lecturer, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Sarah E. Bond University of Iowa
Leah Kronenberg Boston University
Tom Hawkins Ohio State University
Katherine Wasdin
Lucy Grinnan
Student, Middlebury College
Rebecca Gaimari undergraduate student
Gregory Hays University of Virginia
John Finamore University of Iowa
Debra Trusty
Lecturer (University of Iowa)
Amy Russell Durham University
Curtis Dozier Vassar College
Jeremy Weiss
Melissa Harl Sellew
Faculty member, University of Minnesota
Diane Rayor
Professor, Grand Valley State University
Caleb Dance
Washington and Lee University
Selena Ross Rutgers University
Lindsey Mazurek
Assistant Professor, University of Oregon
Katherine Harrington
Postdoctoral Fellow, Florida State University
Dan Curley Skidmore College
Lydia Herring-Harrington Tufts University
Kelly P. Dugan University of Georgia
Diana Molkova University of Washington
Peter J. Miller
University of Winnipeg; CAMWS member
Sarah Teets
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Virginia
Shelley P. Haley Hamilton College
Jonathan MacLellan
Andrew Carroll
Melanie Racette-Campbell
Craig Gibson University of Iowa
Katharine Huemoeller
Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
Laura Gawlinski
Associate Professor and Chair, Loyola University Chicago / CAMWS member
Elizabeth Neely Ohio State
Jessica Blum
University of San Francisco
Lana Radloff Bishop’s University
Anna Krohn
Janet M. Martin
Associate Professor Emerita, Princeton University
Marcia Lindgren University of Iowa
Jessica Nowlin
The University of Texas at San Antonio
Sheila Dickisono University of Florida
Mik Larsen
California State University, Long Beach
Noah Segal
Graduate Student – UC Santa Barbara
Sasha-Mae Eccleston Brown University
Jeremy LaBuff
Northern Arizona University
Joseph Groves
Laurie Porstner
Graduate Student, Rutgers University
Erin Briggs Agnes Scott College
Erin Moodie
Assistant Professor, Purdue University
Jonathan Young University of Iowa
Andrew Reeber
Samuel Cooper, PhD
Bard High School Early College Queens
Brenda Longfellow University of Iowa
Steven Brandwood Rutgers University
Michael Leese
University of New Hampshire
Hunter Gardner
University of South Carolina
Kathryn Gutzwiller University of Cincinnati
ann suter univ. of rhode island
Alice Gaber
The Ohio State University
Sasha-Mae Eccleston Brown University
Tessa Cavagnero Northwestern University
Michael Arnush Chair, Classics, Skidmore
Robert C. Ketterer
David Malamud
PhD student, Boston University
Anne E. Haeckl
Senior Instructor and Co-Chair, Classics Dept., Kalamazoo College
Charlie
Victoria University of Wellington
Sinead Brennan-McMahon
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Emily Hauser
Dominic Machado Holy Cross

CFP: “Writing Ancient and Medieval Same-Sex Desire: Goals, Methods, Challenges”

A Call for Papers:
“Writing Ancient and Medieval Same-Sex Desire: Goals, Methods, Challenges”
June 30-July 2, 2020
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
https://cms.victoria.ac.nz/slc/about/events/writing-ancient-and-medieval-same-sex-desire-goals,-methods,-challenges


This call for papers is for a conference to take place June 30-July 2, 2020 at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, on the topic of writing about same-sex desire in ancient and medieval societies.

Derek Krueger (UNC Greensboro), Mark Masterson (Victoria University of Wellington), Nancy Rabinowitz (Hamilton College), and Shaun Tougher (Cardiff University) will be providing  plenary addresses.

For several decades now, scholars have devoted attention to same-sex desire in both ancient times and the centuries that followed. Not surprisingly, there have been vigorous debates over how to go about it. These debates have been framed in various ways. Here are some examples:

  • essentialism VERSUS constructivism;
  • Foucauldian discourse analysis VERSUS approaches inspired by psychoanalysis;
  • (the impossibility of) objective history VERSUS (overly) subjective history;
  • perception of commonalities across time VERSUS rigorously historicizing insistence on the past’s alterity;
  • positivism VERSUS imaginative reconstruction of contemporaneous receptions.

These dichotomies, which are both reductive and don’t exhaust the possibilities, continue to crackle with contention. They also continue to undergird and even disturb current scholarly endeavours.

We are looking for papers (30 minutes in length) in which scholars not only speak about primary source material but also reflect explicitly on the theoretical orientation of their work (see the dichotomies above for examples) and the purpose(s) of (their) scholarship on same-sex desire. An additional objective of this conference will be an edited volume of papers that will aim to showcase a variety of approaches to this important topic.

Please send proposals (c. 500 words) to Mark Masterson (writingsamesexdesire@gmail.com) by 1 December 2019. If you have any questions, please send them to him at this address also.

In your proposal include

  1. the primary source material/historical milieu to be discussed, and
  2. the general theoretical basis of the work

This conference is underwritten by the Marsden Fund/Te Pūtea Rangahau A Marsden of the Royal Society/Te Apārangi of New Zealand

Write-up: Classics and Social Justice at CANE 2019

Write-up: Classics and Social Justice: Works in Progress, Working towards Progress – A Summary of the Classics and Social Justice Workshop at CANE 2019. By Dominic Machado.

On March 10, we held a workshop, entitled Classics and Social Justice: Works in Progress, Working towards Progress, at the Classical Association of New England annual meeting at the College of the Holy Cross. The event was a continuation of a series of earlier workshops on Classics and Social Justice at CANE and the CANE Summer Institute over the past two years. This year’s workshop sought to expand upon these earlier conversations by highlighting new projects that employ Classics as a means towards community building and social progress.

The workshop was very well attended, with roughly 50 people present, and lasted for 90 minutes. The meeting featured three short papers discussing a wide range of topics. Maia Lee-Chin (College of the Holy Cross) spoke first and described her experiences creating and implementing an Aequora program as a high school and college student. She discussed the differences that emerged in creating programs in both English and Spanish-speaking contexts. She also enumerated the difficulties and unanswered questions related to using Latin as a tool to aid students in underserved districts.

Dominic Machado (College of the Holy Cross) talked about the need to find new models for the public presentation of Classics. He argued that doing so was a necessary corollary to important work being done to delegitimize supremacist and misogynist appropriations of the Greco-Roman world. To provide an example of how such work can be transformative, he discussed Martin Luther King’s use of classical references in his sermons to create a narrative of inclusiveness and equity.

Roberta Stewart described recent work in the Troy to Baghdad/Homer4Vets program. She discussed how in an American society in which less than 1% serve and must return to the 99% civilian society a community book group program can harness world literature to create community for U.S. veterans within ‘home’ contexts. She argued that reading world literature provides veterans the opportunity to identify and develop a vocabulary for communicating and interpreting military experience as a premise for imagining or re-imagining their own personal life narratives of deployment and return.

These papers sparked much discussion about how we can continue to promote the advancement of justice in our field, particularly in the wake of the racist events at the SCS meeting in San Diego. Particularly notable was the mention of the potential of non-violent communication training as a way to facilitate difficult conversations about our field both inside and outside of the classroom.

CFP: ‘Antiracism and Action in Classics’ – MRECC panel for CAAS 2019

We are putting together an MRECC panel proposal for CAAS 2019 which will take place October 10-12 in Silver Spring, MD. The panel topic will be Antiracism and Action in Classics. We welcome papers on any related subject including training, pedagogy, departmental restructuring, policy changes, activism, etc. We are looking for at least 1 or 2 more presenters to join the proposal. If you are interested in joining the panel, please email me directly (kpdugan@uga.edu) with a 150 word abstract by Monday March 11th at the latest (the sooner the better as the panel proposal is due March 18th). Faculty and students of color and anyone from traditionally underrepresented groups are especially encouraged to present on our panel. Thank you!

‘Teaching Tragedy to the Incarcerated,’ by Nancy S. Rabinowitz.

Teaching Tragedy to the Incarcerated. Presented by Nancy S. Rabinowitz at the ‘Diversity and the Study of the Ancient World’ conference at Roehampton University, November 2017. 

This brief presentation will focus on my experiences teaching Greek tragedy in prison—a marginalized and highly racialized space in the U.S. While this work is unlikely to change the profile of the field (the prisoners are unlikely to become academics), it does work to increase access to it. Thus, it is my most direct form of social justice work.

The U.S. imprisons more people than any other nation. There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. As Michelle Alexander has argued in her book, The New Jim Crow, this is effectively a form of slavery; one of the men I teach in prison reminds me that the 15th amendment outlawing slavery did not make it illegal to make slaves out of felons. In prison in NY state the daily wage for jobs ranges between .10 and 1.10. Mass incarceration is also clearly institutionalized racism. Young black men are more likely to go to prison than to get a four-year college education, and black men are five times more likely to be in prison than white men (in some states that is 10 times, according to the sentencing project).

While there is an active prison abolition movement in the U.S., there are also attempts to ameliorate the existing system through the arts and education. Federal grants for higher education for inmates dried up some years ago; state and private funding is flowing more freely again because there is a growing consensus that having received some form of an education helps convicts stay out of jail once they get out. We can’t make grand claims based on the small numbers, but even if the consensus is mistaken, education is of value and should available to prisoners, the students said when I read them this paper.

We also can’t really generalize about prison education. Programs differ from one another. For instance, some lead to a degree, some are single courses, and still others are not actually courses, just volunteer discussion groups (that is where I fit in). In college prep or college courses, the men get credit, write papers, and take exams. The teachers grade them! Classicists participate in a broad range of ways from one of the most formal (the Bard Prison Initiative) to one of the most informal, my own. There are similarities of course – security at all facilities, for instance, and the fact of surveillance. But differences emerge as well from the kind of institution served. Are the incarcerated men or women? Are the facilities a jail or prison, are they medium or maximum security? Is it a program heavy facility or one with few programs?

Inside/Out, a Temple University initiative with many other university partners, integrates college students and prisoners in the same room. As a member, Sara Rappe at University of Michigan taught Classical Civilizations 479, “Socrates and other Prisoners of Conscience,” to a class of 30 students, 15 outsiders and 15 insiders. They discussed Plato, Solzhenitsyn, Primo Levi, Gandhi, King, Angela Davis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Much as I would like to do so, however, I could not offer such a course where I live and teach because of strict rules about the ages of volunteers.

Some of the initiatives come from colleges and universities themselves, some are organized on the state level. For instance, the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP) is an association of higher education institutions in New Jersey that works in partnership with the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections and New Jersey State Parole Board, to (a) provide higher education courses for all students under the custody of the State of New Jersey while they are incarcerated, and (b) assist in the transition to college life upon their release into the community.

What are we actually doing when we teach ancient material in prison? In an essay in Eidolon Jessica Wright points out a conundrum: “Choosing to teach Latin in prison — placing Classics at the center of a social justice initiative — made it even more obvious to me how right Greenwood and Vasunia are. . . . [about the place of Latin in colonization] Program directors asked us to send any Latin graduates their way. Introducing Latin as the foreign language option magnified the specter of the exceptionalism of Classics in ways that felt at odds with the (anti-imperialist, anti-racist) project of prison education.” In order to mitigate this contradiction, Wright changed her pedagogy from traditional methods to a more open process. As a result, she had a student say to her that “the classroom was the only space in which he felt safe to say “no” — that is, to disagree both with his peers and with figures of authority, “without fear of retribution.” Prisoners were appalled at her notion, and they have now asked me to teach Latin and/or Greek. They’d love to learn a language.

My program in a men’s medium security facility has no infrastructure and little official support, though Hamilton does provide the books for free; it is never clear that they will arrive safely at the school building, where I teach. The prisoners don’t receive credit, and all of the teachers are volunteers. We don’t meet more than every other week. The shifting population characteristic of medium-security prison is part of the problem we face teaching there. Preparing for this talk, for instance, I did not know who would be in class, who would have gotten the books, and if they would have read the book. The first night I only had two men; thereafter different problems emerged. More recently, I had a different two, and one had been out of the facility so did not have the book. Nonetheless, we had a great conversation. The population of the prison is mostly black and Latin, but my group has always been disproportionately white. So the new audience here is class based more than racial, but of course, these men have been marginalized and isolated by virtue of their incarceration.

Initially I was reluctant to teach tragedy because I assumed other modern texts would be more relevant to the students. Indeed, outsiders have challenged me on that basis—why not teach black writers instead (though that was based on a false assumption of the racial makeup of the group). Working with Rhodessa Jones, whose Medea Project has built plays around 5 ancient myths, inspired me to try a performance of a Greek play. I assigned Antigone and Fugard’s The Island, based on Antigone. The first time we read it was hilarious. There was lots of fooling around, as in The Island, about playing Antigone and Ismene–a little exaggerated imitation and joking about playing her with “the girl’s voice.” When I called on one man, a big guy who is clearly devoted to body building, to be Antigone, he said he’d never live it down in the weight yard—and the others laughed at the image. The play never came off because I broke a cardinal rule: I was punished for taking something from the men out with me.

I did not give up on tragedy, however. Since then we have discussed many plays, Philoctetes and Ajax, the Oresteia, and Medea, some of them for publication on the APGRD’s web site and in preparation for this talk. In what follows, I will share what my students have had to say with you. The prison administration is very reluctant to have us write, in part because of anxiety about their reputation. But there is another more positive reason for caution which I share: I don’t want to exploit my students. I am committed to treating the men as co-authors, but they cannot be here. Thus, I share my writing with the group before presenting it; they are invested in my writing and presenting their voices publicly. When at one point, I suggested that perhaps we should not bother going forward, they were adamant that we continue. One man explained why contributing to the Medea volume was important to him: he got to hear his own words and those of his friends; he was proud, and glad that they were able to be heard via my speaking. Another man agreed with him, saying how happy he was to be part of something beautiful that was bigger than prison.

When I come in, I often ask how they are doing. That conversation may take quite a while if someone is facing a parole hearing, for instance, and wants to talk it over with us. This is one place where the prisoners can talk freely: there is no guard in the room, and it is quiet. Prison is always noisy, and the men in the group find many of the conversations outside annoying and stupid. I learn a lot during the “check-in.”

Of course I’m not officially there to get educated, but let me share with you what they had to say about the plays we read from their positions. For instance, interesting questions emerged in our discussion of Agamemnon: what will be waiting for you when you come home? What happens to children in the absence of the father? What happens to the children when they witness violence between their parents? Could Agamemnon have done it any other way? Did he go to Troy because he wanted the wealth of Asia—// to drug money? embezzlement? Why did he bring home his “whore” and ask his wife to take care of her?? And for themselves: How do you remain a dad? What does it mean to be separate, miss family events?

A lot of our conversations centered on masculinity, making the connections to the men’s own lives. Who was the father figure, the model for them? Is it the cool dude, the basket player? Most of them say they grew up without men or models of healthy fathers in their lives; several of them have many children with different women and are not in touch with them. They talk extensively about the pressure to be a man, to be tough, in prison, though the threat of rape seems to be less pressing now than it used to be. They explain: “Who is a real man in prison is defined by what you see; it is superficial and external.” There is pressure to “Get your weight up,” but another man asserts that you don’t have to be huge: it depends on character, there is another way to dominate a situation. One of the men cultivates a calm attitude: waiting on line at the water fountain in the yard for instance, when the macho man thinks he can just cut in, this individual lets him. His attitude is “I can wait.”

There is another strong message, some say, that masculinity is control over yourself and others; don’t be sensitive, don’t get involved. But other men disagree, saying, you don’t have to follow the code: one older, religious man is proud of intervening to help someone out. I wonder how much he gets away with because of his age, race, or years on the inside. In prison, fights do not typically cross race or age lines.

The ancient warrior code of honor seems relevant in prison. In discussing the Ajax, I introduced the idea of Bryan Doerries’ program—he discusses Ajax and Philoctetes with vets—and they saw the parallel more with other kinds of violence rather than war. For instance one man agrees that in prison there is a code of masculinity that requires fighting, but he does not have to fight a kid who thinks he’s tough. Honor is about saving face with your peers. Another sees the similarity to white motorcycle clubs and gangs; that is a warrior culture more than the military.

For some the loss of an inside or a sense of self while in prison is a grave concern. What happens to the “real you” with all this pressure? Will you take prison behaviors with you (like taking your silverware off the table in a restaurant out of habit?)? There is ambivalence about how much control they actually can have, how much choice is available to them. When we discuss the gender conflict in Agamemnon, they have a clear interpretation of why Aegisthus is so violent in the end. They understand it as a response to a lack of power: “Because incarcerated men lack power, lack control and are therefore deprived of traditional measures of masculinity, they also attempt to gain it by putting others down; they need to assert themselves because they are not certain of themselves.” Aegisthus’ domination by Clytemnestra comes through as a reaction in his relationship to the chorus.

As with my Hamilton students, personal experiences color reception. When we discussed Orestes in Libation Bearers and Electra saying he must act, they saw it as about themselves, saying things like this: “Now is the time! Your life is in trouble. It is time to change, face the beast.” They see that every moment is a choice. They talked about the need to be responsible, accountable, and they blamed the characters who were not. In general, the prisoners in my class do not deny that they committed the crime; they are willing to do the time.

We have had wonderful conversations about some of the big ideas. For instance, when we discuss the gnomic statement that “wisdom comes through suffering” in the Agamemnon chorus, the men assert that they are learning a lot by being in prison—it is a necessary evil that leads to growth. Reading The Apology, they said something similar: that prison gives them the opportunity to live an examined life; we discuss the differences between their lives and the lives of monks in other kinds of cells, and I bring up the daily humiliation they face. How similar are they really to monks? What is it on the outside that distracts from philosophy?? One man had a great deal of sympathy for Odysseus in Ajax, in fact more than one, when he pities Ajax, saying “It makes me see that we who live and breathe are nothing more than phantoms, or insubstantial shadowings.” (Taplin 123-6) They connect with the idea that the gods have power over Odysseus and Ajax.

In short, the incarcerated men use the plays to think about themselves, and I encourage them in this. We discuss at various times the role of this class in helping them avoid violence, revenge, anger; they think of it as giving them tools: “a way of doing surgery on ourselves.” I want to underline the point that others who teach in prison have also made. It is not the texts so much that make the difference. I do this work as a classicist, but also as a human being. And I speak to the men as human beings. That is one of the main things about our encounters. The inmates are not numbers in there. Their opinions are taken seriously, and they are more than their crime.

So to come back to my doubts: this is not the revolution of course. It is perhaps putting garlands on the bars. In the end, to do this work you have to believe that creating an oasis for a few individuals is worth something. This is a program for the few, a handful out of a population of 1800, but it is worth something to the ones who come, and therefore to me. Recently I have felt like abandoning the course because so there are so many obstacles in the way. But then I have a wonderful session and realize that it is too much fun to give up.

Let me end with a quote from one of the men from the early days of the program: “The Greek tragedies really did provide me with an opportunity to think very seriously about what makes me tick. Why do I make the decisions that I make? Where is the precedent for this or that?” He had earlier said that the group has “become like a therapy session.”  I feel that in the prison program, more than at Hamilton, I can directly help people to live the examined life, and participate with them in examining my own. Given the maleness of the texts and the environment, the men recently asked me what I got out of it. I told them that as a feminist critic, I need to understand masculinity. But the truth is simpler: I enjoy teaching there (when it is going well). There are limits that we must observe, but within those boundaries we are free to fly high.