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Thread: How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting

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    How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting

    TL;DR: The problem is how there are too many men studying the civilization their own ancestors built, or something. Classical studies need to be decolonized is the idea behind this, I suppose. And this woman was shown the door because of “stalking, queer/trans bullying, or hostility or abuse based on age, disability, religion, race or ethnicity”, lol.

    written by Mary Frances Williams



    I am a Classics Ph.D. who recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS—formerly the American Philological Association), a yearly conference that provides papers on classical subjects and interviews for academic positions. I now regret doing so since some remarks I made at the conference led to me being branded a “racist” and the loss of my editing job with the Association of Ancient Historians.

    I don’t usually attend because of the expense—I’m an independent scholar and cannot rely on universities for reimbursement. But it seemed like a good idea to go since the weather is always nice in San Diego. A bonus was the USS Midway, now a floating museum. The Midway, a World War II-era aircraft carrier that served as the command center for the bombing of Bagdad during the Gulf War, is well worth visiting.

    On January 5 I decided to attend panel #45, a “Sesquicentennial Workshop”—it was the 150th anniversary of the SCS—titled “The Future of Classics.” It was described in the meeting program as “an open and free-form large-room discussion of what we think the trajectories of our field, broadly defined, will and/or should be, not just in the immediate future but for the next 150 years.” Based on the description (“discussion” is mentioned three times), the panel seemed like an opportunity to raise some questions and obtain some answers about what was happening in the field.

    Although I am a Classics Ph.D. and a former professor, it has been some time since I taught. But I have noticed a decline in the number of Classics courses being offered at universities, a shift in teaching focus, and, at least this past fall, a concentration on archaeology positions in the academic job market rather than for Classics generalists. I thought that I might contribute to the discussion, and that by asking questions I might learn what was going on and what others thought about the direction of the field. I knew nothing about the people who’d been invited to speak.

    A typical session at the SCS Annual Meeting involves six speakers giving papers, with a few minutes for one or two questions after each one, and usually lasts two-and-three-quarter hours. Papers are normally submitted through the Program Committee and classed by topic. However, this particular panel/workshop was atypical: the invited speakers, who only spoke for four or five minutes apiece, did not give true papers or have paper titles listed in the program, and therefore did not go through the Program Committee. Nor were they sponsored by any affiliated group as far as I know. Although Stephen Hinds (University of Washington) was listed as the organizer of the workshop, he did not chair the panel, keep order, call on members of the audience, or time the speakers. In short, it was an odd affair that seemed not to follow the (admittedly Byzantine) rules for SCS Meetings. The SCS Director, Helen Cullyer, was also present in the audience and gave a few anodyne remarks of welcome, but sat quietly throughout the subsequent uproar.

    The first speaker, Sarah Bond (University of Iowa), emphasised how she runs the Twitter feed, Facebook page and blog for the SCS. This work gave her occasion “to reflect often on whether in the field of Classics we can separate the art from the artist.” Bond encouraged SCS members to consider the legacy of classicists like Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924), because he wrote:

    …some of the most racist and abominable columns for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that we actually know of [sic], defending slavery, defending the South; and yet we continue to celebrate Basil Gildersleeve within our society. What does that say to the future classicists that are coming into the field?… It does not tell people of colour that it [sic] is welcoming to them.

    From Gildersleeve, she went on to “other very influential scholars that oftentimes go silent at this meeting [sic]”. This was puzzling, but then she immediately clarified that she was talking about people “we don’t talk about, or we whisper about, because we know things, but we can’t say them aloud.” She recounted how she was “summarily cut off” in the question and answer period of a “digital pedagogy for mapping” conference panel by a “very prominent digital humanist” when she mentioned that that she no longer cited the work of a former Classics professor “because of the rape allegations against him currently.” An allegation against this scholar was made on Facebook in November 2017 of a sexual assault in 1985, but neither his university nor the police investigated the charge, and no formal proceeding has ever been opened against him.

    From there Bond seemed to accuse all classicists (or maybe just the SCS) of taking part in a conspiracy of silence:

    Because we are still about cronyism and supporting a very small group of people in many ways this can oftentimes silence other people. I too have had problems with whether to call people out or whether to say things, whether we should be anonymous or whether we should have a name attached to all the allegations that we put against people, but we have to think about the past of Classics and the present in order to make it welcoming for the future.

    The way to correct this was to create “an environment for diversity and inclusion” by “calling out” “mistakes that we’re making currently and in the past” [sic].

    Next she started talking about what another panellist would call “citational justice.” This is a process of “diversifying our footnotes, and trying to include more people, rather than following the same path that we have been led to our entire careers as classicists.” She described this as a way of “lifting as we climb.” The idea was that if you cite women [of colour] in your scholarship, instead of Basil Gildersleeve or “various scholars who are part of the canon,” then “that is how we are going to climb.”

    Bond bemoaned the fact that her blog posts did not count towards tenure even though, puzzlingly, she has tenure, or so she told us. She claimed to have written over 170,000 words over the past two years on her own blog and various other blogs. This writing was the equivalent of “two books over the past two years that I got almost no tenure credit for.” She wanted to encourage universities to look at “outreach” activities like blog posts when assessing candidates for tenure and promotion in order to “break away from the monograph as the model for who gets tenure.” She objected to the fact that she was granted tenure only because of a single scholarly monograph.

    Bond’s final topic was “inclusion.” She had been in charge of organizing Classics colloquia at her university, and claimed that “those panels represented what we believed Classics is and should be.” Over the past 10 years, there had only been three scholars of colour in any of these colloquia. She tried to make them inclusive by inviting even numbers of men and women, and bringing in as many women, people of colour, dance professors and other people “outside the traditional area of Classics” as she could. In Bond’s eyes, inclusion “begins in the local university, telling people of colour and women specifically that they can be a part of our field through simply presenting them with people who are not seen as the [sic] traditional classicists, i.e., white males, who are older.”

    She was particularly concerned about “manels” (all-male conference panels): “having [people in the SCS] refuse to be a part of manels is one reason why I started WOAH,” she said. WOAH stands for ‘Women of Ancient History,’ a database of female ancient historians.

    I was puzzled by Bond’s discussion of Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve’s commentary on Pindar’s Olympian and Pythian Odes (New York: Harper 1885) is still the best thing out there on all those odes for anyone studying the Greek text of Pindar, an incredibly complex and difficult poet of the sixth century B.C., who wrote odes for Olympic and other athletic victors (for example, victors in the chariot race at the Olympic Games). Gildersleeve is unlikely to be supplanted by those who work on Pindar; in fact, it is impossible to read the poet in Greek without Gildersleeve’s assistance with Greek grammar, myth, genealogy and history. It struck me as odd to argue that his scholarship should be disregarded because of articles he wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. There is nothing in his commentary (or his Latin grammar or work on Greek syntax) that comes even close to being racist. How can we not use him? Or is it fine to “use” anyone, even if they are racist, as long as they are not given any credit in the text?

    The second speaker, Joy Connolly (the Graduate Center at CUNY New York), focused on what she called “the futureology of Classics.” The big trend in education, she said, was the rising cost of higher education; meanwhile, Classics was “not in growth mode.” Classicists needed to teach more students. “We have to decide what we want our field to be,” she said. We had to put more of our energy into attracting students to justify hiring replacements for ourselves when we retire. The future of Classics was really ours to make.

    Connolly’s preferred vision of the future was, to my ears, rather alarming:

    Let’s imagine a field… where language study is not the core, and courses in translation are so popular we can argue to support tiny language courses, because they will always now be tiny, and let’s remember that a lot of administrations are not going to support that solution.

    She hinted that she wanted “popular engagement” to determine research topics, and questioned the value of traditional notions of Classics, asking why so many students wrote their dissertations on great works of classical Greek and Latin literature, instead of topics like indigenous writing in the Americas and technical writing.

    Connolly seemed hostile to the study of classical Greek and Latin. She said that the ancient languages could not be taught anymore by Classics departments. She did not say why, besides cost. Instead, she thought that “we” should not require all classicists to teach Greek and Latin. “I think the field would be better served by training a next generation of faculty free and empowered to focus on teaching topics of broader interest.” Not Latin or Greek, in other words.

    But the abandonment of philology, the heart of our discipline, means that there can be no true research in the field. We can have no new editions of texts, no new translations, no work on ancient history, no scholarly work on ancient authors, without knowledge of the languages. What Connolly seemed to be advocating is that classicists should discard the heart and soul of their discipline to make it more popular.

    The final speaker, Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Princeton University), began by saying: “For the next few minutes I want to concentrate on the systemic marginalisation of people of colour in the credentialed and accredited knowledge production of the discipline.”

    Apparently, the organisers of the SCS annual meeting had contributed to this marginalisation by holding the conference at a hotel in San Diego:

    Already by the historical process of convening this conference in locations that are not only ludicrously expensive to travel to but that are rife with micro- and macroaggressions that target people of colour, the SCS does people of colour no favours.

    Padilla mentioned “the revolting racial profiling” of two SCS members the day before, and discussed holding hotel and conference centre staff to “a racially equitable standard.”

    But Padilla’s main subject was Classics. He said he wanted to displace “the pre-eminence and priority of white privilege and white supremacy in the discipline’s self-image.” He then talked about the shortcomings of scholarly journals:

    I want to look at a blinding derangement: the responsibility of the major journals in the field for the replication of those asymmetries of power and authority that impoverish knowledge production in the field of Classics by perpetrating the epistemic and hermeneutic injustice of denying a space and a place for scholars of colour.

    Padilla had conducted what he called a “data harvesting project,” as part of his “emancipatory” project of “citational justice.” He looked over his own course syllabi and reading lists for the purpose of “mapping the major landmarks of authorised knowledge production in this field,” asking himself: “How many women scholars appear on these syllabi? How many people of colour? How many women of colour?”

    He attacked Basil Gildersleeve for starting a scholarly journal:

    Although not normally acknowledged in the dossier of his most explicitly racist words and deeds, Gildersleeve’s founding of [the American Journal of Philology] in 1880 helped to shape American classical scholarship by spurring the development of a journal-centred disciplinary culture that has proven remarkably if unsurprisingly resistant to the pursuit of racial diversity and equity as a core objective.

    Apparently, the entire discipline was riddled with this injustice:

    If one were intentionally to design a discipline whose institutional organs and gatekeeping protocols were explicitly aimed at disavowing the legitimate status of scholars of colour as producers of knowledge, one could not to better than what Classics has done.

    Padilla had compiled 20 years’ worth of data for the journals Classical Antiquity, the American Journal of Philology and Transactions of the American Philological Association to determine how much gender disparity there is in the field. He had also tried to find data on the racial and ethnic backgrounds of all the authors published by these journals.

    Between 1997 and 2017, according to Padilla, none of these came close to achieving gender parity. To account for this, he claimed that “men receive more explicit encouragement” to contribute to journals, and suggested that the “extraordinary discretionary powers wielded by editors” be scrutinised, because “discretionary power can and should be flexed to progressive consequence and outcome.”

    I wasn’t persuaded by Padilla’s “evidence.” Surely, to determine whether bias and sexual discrimination is the cause of gender disparity among these journal contributors, you would have to factor in the number of female classicists who had submitted articles in the same period? Was the acceptance rate lower for women than for men? Padilla said nothing about that.

    Next, he looked at the “racial and ethnic makeup of the publication rosters” of journals, “the bleakness of which may not surprise some of you in attendance, but which still deserves quantitative exposition.”

    As a rule, academic papers are submitted anonymously to journals, by email or through electronic journal software, and are read anonymously through peer review. There isn’t any indication on the paper either before publication or after that would tell an editor, reviewer, or a reader after publication the race or ethnicity of an author. How did Padilla arrive at his numbers? How could anyone know what he was claiming to know?

    Padilla said he had exhaustively searched the internet to try to determine the racial and ethnic backgrounds of contributors to Classical Antiquity, the American Journal of Philology and Transactions of the American Philological Association between 1997 and 2017. He concluded that “the hegemony of whiteness is everywhere in evidence across the three journals”—between 91–98 percent of contributors turned out to be white Americans or white Europeans: “These percentages remind me of nothing so much as the figures for those intensely segregated suburbs that define the childhoods [sic] and adolescence of my partner; publication in elite journals is a whites-only neighbourhood.”
    More: Quillette.com
    "If we were going to stand in darkness, best we stand in a darkness we had made ourselves.” ― Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

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