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.


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!

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:

Hosted by The Sportula (

*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.


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 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):

Melanie Racette-Campbell (WCC Mentoring Co-Chair, 2018-2019):

Liaisons: Mountaintop/LCC/CSJ Sanjaya Thakur (, Daniel Leon Ruiz (, Deborah Kamen (, Nancy Rabinowitz (

Slack for classicists with disabilities

Email Clara Bosak-Schroeder <> 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.

Write-up: Race and Ethnicity Syllabus Workshop at CAAS 2018 (Philadelphia)

By David Wright (@rmavirumquecano).

At the 2018 meeting of CAAS in Philadelphia, CSJ and MRECC hosted a race and ethnicity syllabus workshop. It was a great success! The panel had about 20-25 attendees who were a mix of high school and college teachers. It quite appropriately preceded and complemented a panel on Afro-Greeks in honor of Emily Greenwood.

The topic of race and ethnicity in the Classics classroom has long been an important point of discussion. Recent political events have brought the issue to the fore to the point where it is impossible for any classicist to ignore.

This panel focused not only on the topic of race and ethnicity in the college classroom, but in high school classes as well. The panel gathered several speakers who have experience teaching the topics of race, ethnicity, and slavery.

Maggie Beeler (Temple University) discussed her experiences teaching “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean” GenEd course, which she first taught right after Charlottesville. She uses three main texts: Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World source book (eds. R.F. Kennedy, C.S. Roy, and M.L. Goldman), Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (D. McCoskey), and various articles from Eidolon. She makes of use of anonymous live polls using PollEverywhere in order to have students explore notions of identity. Maggie grounds the discussion of the ancient texts with discussions of contemporary issues related to race in America.

Dani Bostick (John Handley High School) shared ways high school Latin teachers can approach these topics. She spoke of her own experience with Latin’s role in the segregation of her high school: the majority of students in her Latin class were white in spite of the fact that she taught at a school that had a majority of students from underrepresented backgrounds. She strives to make her class accessible to all students, regardless of background. She frequently incorporates discussions of race, ethnicity, slavery, and migration in her Latin classes. In particular, she stresses the similarities between American antebellum slavery and slavery in the ancient world as opposed to the differences and has students critically examine the ways Latin textbooks treat the subject of slavery.

Denise Eileen McCoskey (Miami University of Ohio) has taught a course on race and ethnicity in the ancient world for approximately two decades.  She makes the point that institutional support is critical, and that she is fortunate to be in an academic environment that values this type of curriculum.  She stresses the importance of using Critical Race Theory in the course. Her course asks three main questions: 1) what are “race” and “ethnicity”?; 2) how should we apply these concepts to study of the classical past? (McCoskey emphasizes to her students her preference for the terminology of “race” 3) how have perceptions of race and ethnicity in antiquity shaped modern conceptions of identity and difference? Overall, she aims to equip students with the methods to be “historians of race” who can critically address constructions of race in any time period or context.  Finally, she highlighted the use of two case-studies she has found effective: the study of Alexander the Great’s racial “policies” (often idealized today in perceptions of his striving for “One World”) and Cicero’s pro Fonteio, which raises powerful questions about who should be believed and why in Roman legal contexts.

Kassandra Miller (Union College) teaches the course, “The Ancient Other.” She brings in experts in diversity and inclusion to help ground discussions of race and ethnicity into her classes of (mostly) white students. She also uses theater projects to engage students. One project involves students imagining that they are putting on a production of the Medea. Students consider questions such as: whose story are you telling? Who do you want to represent? Who do you want your audience to be? How do you actually put on the production? Kassandra also invited her campus’ Dean of Diversity and Inclusion to team-teach a class session. Together, they helped students translate lessons learned in the course of their study of race and ethnicity in antiquity into concrete actions which will promote diversity and inclusion in their daily lives.

Jackie Murray (University of Kentucky) is currently designing a course on the Medea that examines Medea both in the ancient and modern world. The first half of the course explores the myth in Classical texts in order to foster discussions of ethnicity in antiquity. In the modern world, she focuses on the reception of Medea among black authors who represent the heroine as a woman of color. The final segment of the course will involve an assignment that has students translate the Medea into a modern Kentucky dialect.

Elina Salminen’s (University of Michigan) talk looks at teaching race and ethnicity in conjunction with community-based learning. Elina has students engage with local communities so that the students can directly apply what they learn in class to the world around them — particularly from an intersectional perspective.  Elina has three suggestions for community-based learning: 1) collaborate with experts on particular topics; 2) keep it local; 3) take time for comparisons and analysis (e.g., comparing ancient slavery with contemporary sex trafficking). Elina brings up the important point about teaching topics of race and ethnicity from a point of privilege. How can the oppressors teach about oppression?

David Wright (Fordham University) brings up the issue that not every department can have an entire course devoted to race and ethnicity. He offers examples of texts that could easily be incorporated into civilization courses. Euripides’ Ion in particular is useful – it can be used in a literature or history-focused class. David is currently using the text in both his Athenian Democracy and Greek Drama class. The play is a great way for students to analyze the social constructions of race and autochthony.

Jackie, Kassandra, and David all talked about how titles of courses can attract or discourage certain types of students. A course like “Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians” tends to draw in white males who might not expect to be critically questioning conceptions of race and the Other in a class like this. On the one hand, it might be a way to “trick” students into having discussions about race and ethnicity who might not normally encounter the subject. David spoke of using the class Ancient Athletics to get students thinking about race as a construct since a focal point of the course examines the constantly changing idea of “Greekness.” At the same time, a title like “Greeks, Romans, Barbarians” might be alienating to students of color. Jackie shared her experience changing the class title from “Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians” to “Is Classics for White People Only?” – the result was a much more diverse group of students.

Audience feedback was particularly helpful. It is clear that there is a strong imperative for classicists to engage with these issues. White teachers should not shy away from this despite the anxiety it might cause. One especially important comment came up regarding the duty of many teachers to acknowledge and own their own privileged identity. We also identified that this issue is twofold: to increase our discussion of race and ethnicity in the classroom and to diversify our field. These two ideas intersect.

Thanks are in order for Rebecca Kennedy for her support with the abstract for this workshop and Nancy Rabinowitz, whose suggestion was the first spark that caused this workshop to come together. We are also extremely grateful to Vicky Austin-Perry for live tweeting the whole panel.

All workshop materials can be found here. For more resources on race and ethnicity in the Classical world, please see Rebecca Kennedy’s website.