E Pluribus (Feminis) Unum

Yesterday could have been a historic event. It wasn’t – in spite of what the new administration might have you believe – not when we put yet another white, Christian male in the most powerful office in the country.

But today was.

Today, hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of women around not only the country but also the globe stood up, rallied, and marched for women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights in the face of what might have been the most devastating blow to our country in a very long time. Sure, we were all upset when Hillary lost in November, but the panic didn’t necessarily set in until that dreadful man was confirmed as our 45th president. It was not until we really realized what the extent of the damage he might – and could very well – cause so many people, not only in America but all over the world, that we decided to stand together against him on his very first full day in office.

The impact was so powerful that although it started as the Women’s March on Washington, it spread in a ripple across America, into Europe and Asia, even to Antarctica! Despite it being called a ‘women’s march’ or a ‘sister march’, it wasn’t just about us ladies – it was about minorities, about access to health care, about immigration and so much more. It was about standing together in this fight – not just today but for the next for years (at least).

While I kept my Snapchat updated throughout the rally at Lansing, Michigan (our capitol), a lot of people were posting on Facebook and all over social media about why they were marching. It wasn’t until I was at home again after the fact that I really had a chance to think about all of the reasons why driving an hour, standing in muddy grass with my socks soaked and my toes cold, and being jostled by too-many-people as they tried to navigate the close quarters of the rally seemed worth it to me. I suppose, like a true classicist, my reason for marching was three-fold.

I’m a Double Minority

Not only am I a woman, but, surprise surprise, I am also a black woman, which, in the past, has not led to the best of situations. Already are women and women of color harassed, marginalized, underpaid, underrepresented, silenced, discriminated against – the list goes on and on. But knowing that, somehow, a man who has been taped saying things which imply sexual assault (i.e. ‘grab ’em by the pussy’) and a man who is and has been against allowing women to have the power to make their own choices about their own bodies were elected into the highest office of the land makes me physically ill. Knowing that those same men, who also support the safety of police OVER the safety of citizens of color (re: the concern should be more equal imo), don’t see the need for stricter gun control, and have made it known that they support ‘stop and frisk’ procedures that encourage racial profiling, are calling (most of) the shots. It makes me nervous. It makes me angry. It makes me want to get out and do something every single day.

My Friends and Family

Even if my friends and family didn’t agree with me politically, I would care about their rights. I would care if their rights were seriously threatened by a corrupt and evil man sitting in the highest office of the country. I would care if they felt afraid, or hurt, or angry, or depressed. I stood up for them, and will continue to stand (though not literally) for them for the next four years, or until we know for sure that our rights as women, as citizens, as human beings will not be infringed upon.

It is appalling to me that anyone could honestly look at our 45th president (who shall remain unnamed), look at the things he has done, the lies he has told, the cabinet he has chosen, and the utter lack of knowledge of any aspect of the American government and not see how wrong of a choice he was. How, even if they don’t see that, anyone could not see that so many people’s lives – people who they might even care about – are going to be affected in a serious way. You can already see who might be the first targets: people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, and Planned Parenthood. I sincerely hope that anyone who continues to actively support this man will look around one day and ask themselves if they’d really be okay with seeing any one of their friends’ lives fall apart because of him.

My Education

Although my tenure as a PhD student lasts far beyond the confines of this presidency (I hope), what concern me in the here and now are the choices that are being made about Education in general. Not only is Betsy DeVos nearly as unqualified for her position as our newly elected president is, but there has been talk that many programs and funding for these programs, including Arts and Humanities ones, are under threat as well. One particularly striking bit of news was that the Heritage Foundation is considering defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, because the “government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

Whether or not this action will be carried out through the new presidential administration, and whether or not this will directly affect my education in particular remains to be seen, but the defunding of NEH especially could pack a punch since its grants typically go to cultural institutions like museums, archives, and libraries, as well as colleges and universities. Moreover, my interests academically are in academia and in museums, so if funding for those areas falls through under our new president, who knows what the aftermath could look like.

It is only day one and we have so much work to do. One can only hope that our voices will be loud enough for someone in that dreadful administration to hear us and help us maintain the equality and love that thrived in the last eight years. Today was amazing and eye-opening, but the fight isn’t over. Never forget: love trumps hate.

+ More photos from today:

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Racism in Classics: A Teach-In at UofM

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday January 16, 2017, in honor of the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday, the Classical Studies department at the University of Michigan hosted a teach-in (or teach-out) entitled Racist Appropriations of the Classical World: Past and Present. In spite of some minor technical difficulties, the lack of seating to accommodate everyone (thanks to the AWESOME turnout), and a rather unfortunate member of the audience who seemed to be attempting to challenge everything the teach-in was trying to combat against (which I’m still fuming about internally, but won’t get into here), I’d say that the event was a success and sincerely hope that it will continue to be built upon in the future.

The teach-in was composed of four ten-minute presentations by professors from the university, David Potter, professor of Classical Studies; Heidi Morse, lecturer in the department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Classical Studies, and English Language and Literature; Ben Fortson, professor of Classical Studies; and Despina Margomenou, lecturer in Modern Greek, followed by a general discussion at the end. Overall, the research that was presented, the questions raised, and the discussions which followed were fruitful and informative.

Potter discussed early scholarship on racism and the end of the Roman empire, especially that of Otto Seeck, who apparently has been considered an ‘authoritative work’ in spite of his view that there was a direct link between the fall of the empire and the ‘invasion’ of a different race (i.e. an ‘extermination of the best’ by a ‘genetically worse’ population). Morse addressed fundamental issues with an organization called ‘Identity Evropa’ which claims a European identity and believes that whites are more superior than non-whites, perpetuating this belief through the appropriation of classical art, individuals, and ideas, both online and on flyers. Flyers associated with this organization appeared on the university’s campus this past fall, in addition to other flyers perpetuating white supremacy. Fortson examined the historical background of the term ‘Aryan’, from its Sanskrit origins, meaning ‘honorable’ or ‘noble’, to its appropriation by Indo-Europeans, becoming synonymous with ‘bringers of civilization’, imploring scholars, especially those in historical linguistics and classical philology, to denounce the misuse of findings to perpetuate prejudices. Finally, Margomenou, though explicitly stating that her talk was “not a story of how Greeks became racists,” presented an interesting history of how race has been conceptualized (and how that conception has changed) by modern Greeks in relation to their past, touching on their association between ‘stark white’ and classical Greece, the Gods in Color exhibition in Munich which sparked controversy about the vibrant colors used on models of sculpture, and the appropriation of media-created themes such as those in the 2006 movie ‘300’ by the neonazi group Golden Dawn.

However, while these talks and the discussion they inspired were interesting, I still felt somewhat uncertain about the implications of incorporating more discussions of race, racism, and the classics into future courses. Particularly problematic for me was the discussion, towards the end of the event, which revolved around the next steps for education relating to race/racism/classical reception in Classical Studies.

In my last post I touched briefly on what I thought the real problem with representation in Classical Studies was – to me, it isn’t about the courses we teach, but rather the people who teach them. Of course, I do not have a solution to this that is readily employable, and I do not think that there is an easy solution to the problem – you cannot just go up to PoC and force them to become Classics majors. It simply isn’t that easy. But the general consensus in the room today was that it might be.

One suggestion that was made was to offer subjects that are generally subject based – like sport and war – since they would be more accessible and applicable to all types of people. While the sentiment is sound on a number of levels, I have seen this backfire first hand, on numerous occasions. In particular, while these ‘general courses’ may attract lots of people who are not Classical Studies majors, and maybe even a few PoC, courses that are general often attract not people who are genuinely interested in Classics (though a small percentage of them are) but people who don’t really want to be there. These courses, at least at liberal arts colleges and universities, are often fulfilling a requirement – at my undergrad a course on Ancient Greek Athletics counted for an arts general education requirement and a course on Ancient Warfare counted for History major requirements – and attract people who are only marginally interested (i.e. athletes) or who would’ve taken anything else if something more relevant to their studies had been offered.

So, the way I see it, presenting general topics that are only marginally interesting to a wider audience will only attract more people who are only marginally interested, much less PoC (if that’s the ‘ultimate goal’). However, I don’t want to make it seem like I was against everything suggested in the discussion – in fact, I did like the suggestions to do away with this idea of ‘Classical Studies’ and to move to a more geographic qualifier like ‘Mediterranean Studies’, since it is true that what we who identify as part of a Classical Studies department don’t always study Greek or Roman things. Moreover, this change would be inherently more inclusive of Egypt in all of its eras, not just the Graeco-Roman period. Perhaps more inclusion of Egypt and the wider Mediterranean in this way would, in fact, attract more PoC who are interested in learning about ancient PoC – however, I do not personally know if the ratio of whites to non-whites is actually lower in, for example, Egyptian or Middle Eastern studies.

It is true that there needs to be more exposure to racism in Classics, and I think that this was a well executed starting point for it. I am very happy to have seen such a huge turnout, even if it did include a self-proclaimed white supremacist, and I learned a whole lot about things I wouldn’t have thought to consider before today. Again, I hope that this sort of thing will continue in future years (though hopefully with less instances of racism in our country… though with the current state of our government, who even knows), and perhaps more students and/or PoC might share their own experiences with and perspectives of the scholarship.

If any other school has done anything cool like this please let me know!

Being a PoC in Classics: Some Thoughts

Ever since reading another blog post written by someone who had attended the Archaeological Institute of America/Society for Classical Studies joint annual meeting in Toronto, Canada, and realized that there needs to be more representation in Classics (see: Classical Studies’ glass ceiling is white), I’ve been thinking a little bit more about being a person of color in Classics than usual.

Here’s my situation – I have been an avid fan of Classics since I sat down in the computer lab on my registration day the summer before my freshman year of college, almost five years ago. Then, of course, I didn’t think anything of the color of my skin in relation to my colleagues. However, the disparity was and has always been there: in most Classics-related classes I have taken since then, I have been one of maybe two PoCs (with the other one only being marginally interested in Classics or just taking the course to get a general education credit out of the way, cue eye roll), and those classes have always been taught by white men and women. The disconnect became more glaring when I went on my first excavation, at the Athenian Agora in Athens, Greece, a two month experience where I got to engage in Classical Archaeology first hand and which reinforced my absolute love for the field. Sure, I had noticed that there were less than a handful of PoCs on the excavation, including myself, but it was not until I started writing statements of purpose for graduate school, some two years later, that it really hit me.

The ratio of whites to non-whites in Classics is abysmal. But I don’t think that’s really anyone’s fault. The field was built up by rich white men who wanted to collect ‘cool old stuff’ (that’s a technical term) and show it off to their friends to make themselves appear more affluent and impressive.

A lot of people, including the person who wrote the above mentioned article, believe that the problem is the lack of discussions of representation and race in the classroom. But I don’t really think so. I don’t think that seeing PoC represented in ancient art, or reading about them in ancient literature, or discussing the differences between modern and ancient slavery are unimportant approaches to the issue of race, but I do think that it can be incredibly discouraging to not see many people who look like you working in your field.

This quote from a Ted Talk by Dena Simmons on imposter syndrome spoke volumes to me:

I have eternal imposter syndrome. Either I’ve been invited because I’m a token, which really isn’t about me, but rather, about a box someone needed to check off. Or, I am exceptional, which means I’ve had to leave the people I love behind. It’s the price that I and so many others pay for learning while black.

In fact, it made me realize the real reason why I was doing all of this – sure, I’m pretty deep into my field (I’m getting my PhD, aren’t I?) so I don’t feel the burning need or desire to be force-fed seminars on representation in the ancient world since I know it all well enough. However, my ultimate goal is to become a professor and conduct my own research, and I think that those things are important for students of color who are marginally interested in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences majors because I think that if they could only see people who look like them doing what they love, then maybe they would be inspired to pursue their interests as well. I know I would have.

I get it. Parents are often protective of their children, wanting the best for them or better-for-them-than-they-had and push them into jobs that will get them somewhere, like law or medicine. My own mother, when I was thinking about where to go for high school, since where I grew up had magnet schools, really wanted me to pursue an engineering magnet (I suspect because she’s an engineer herself). I think I’ve had an aversion to science since I came out of the womb, so I made a beeline for the arts magnet and never looked back.

I am grateful to have a mother who has supported me so much from day one, even when I have stumbled over myself trying to explain what I could possibly do with a Classics major (A Lot!).

I am very lucky to have not had to go through a terrible time in my youth or my college years, to not have been discriminated against, to have been supported every step of the way by my professors, and to have been accepted into my dream graduate program. But I know that not everyone has been so lucky, and that not everyone is so secure in their interests that they feel confident enough to truly pursue them.

I can only hope that more people will be inspired to do so, especially in Classics and in Classical Archaeology, whether it be on their own or be from seeing someone who looks like them doing what they want to do and being where they want to be.

Maybe then the ratio of whites to non-whites at annual meetings won’t be so striking.

A Beginner’s Guide To Reading 3 Epic Poems

epic [ep-ik] adj. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style

A few days I came across a curious thing on Tumblr: a student who was interested in and in possession of three epic poems – The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid – in translation, and who wanted to read them but didn’t know how to approach them in a way that made them easy to understand.

As a classics major in undergrad, I had little trouble understanding what was going on in these epics because I had been exposed to the stories, in varying amounts, and the cultural context of the stories for a number of years already. I can only imagine what it’s like to read these stories with little to no knowledge of the Greco-Roman world or the literature that came from it.

So, after a lot of thinking, I figured the easiest way to explain how to approach these epics was to provide anyone who wants to know how (i.e. anyone who’s reading this) with 1) a brief overview of the background, major characters, and major cultural topics of each epic and with 2) a general outline of the structure(s) of the epics.

Continue reading “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading 3 Epic Poems”

Summer Job, Summer Class: A Lesson in Time Management

When I signed up for my summer class – an intensive Latin course that intended to get through the entire language in only eight weeks – I had no intention of getting a summer job. I thought I’d be sitting pretty with the money I had gotten from my summer scholarship, with enough to pay for the class and to pay for my rent and utilities until my stipend started in September.

But I was so, so wrong.

The class turned out to be a little more expensive than I’d thought, leaving me with barely enough money to get through the first month. So I quickly applied for jobs all over town – mostly in retail, but in food establishments too – hoping against hope that I’d find something that wasn’t a total drag and paid well enough.

Luckily, I had an interview and was offered another by a different store, but took the job I was offered from the first one. I experienced my first full-blown work schedule this past weekend – working one twelve hour day, two ten hour days, and two eight hour days in a row – and it was miserable. It was hot and humid, sometimes rainy, and my feet and knees were killing me after all of those hours on my feet.

But at the same time that it was miserable, it was totally worth it because it allowed me to learn so much about the store and its merchandise in a short amount of time, as well as get to interact with so many different people. Just yesterday I modeled clothing for two women who were shopping and it was so fun.

At the end of the weekend, however, I remembered that I still had homework to do – and a lot of it. Plus, on top of all of that, the Democratic National Convention is on this week, and I’m working three more days. Going from class to work to homework and being politically informed is beyond tiring – doesn’t it just sound like it?

I haven’t quite perfected the art of time management in this situation, but I am working on it actively. Today, I had a day off so I did all of my homework for next class and the class after that, just so that I wouldn’t have to worry about doing it after getting home from work tomorrow at 9:30pm (I’m not a night owl anyway, so doing homework that late is painful for me). As for balancing class and work, it’s a little tricky to do when you start work right as your class is ending – yesterday, I asked to leave half an hour early so that I could eat lunch before work, and I felt terrible. Tomorrow, though, I think I will try to eat my lunch during our ten minute break in the middle of class and ask to leave ten minutes early instead. It only takes five minutes to walk from class to work (thankfully) so it should work out fine.

I am working until the end of August, but my class ends on August 19th, so hopefully things will be easier by then. As long as I stay on top of my homework – or at least stay ahead of it so that I don’t neglect to do it or forget until the last minute – and ingest as much coffee as humanly possible (just kidding… maybe) then I think everything will be fine. This is my first summer working AND taking a class, but once I get the hang of it, it’ll be alright. Plus, I’m getting paid, so it’s definitely worth it.

Just four and a half more weeks to go. I can totally do this.

A Solemn Vow

It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I tell you that I lost a good friend today. Killed doing exactly what she loved – helping others and raising awareness about affordable housing through Bike and Build – Anne was only 22 years old, fresh out of college, full of excitement, and love, and purpose.

But now she’s gone.

I’ve felt a lot of things in the past few hours. I’ve felt shock, and disbelief, and pain, and sympathy, and regret. I was shocked and in disbelief when, ten minutes before class started, I was innocently scrolling through my Facebook feed and found out the news. I was in pain – the worst pain you could ever imagine – and still am, when I realized that she had been taken from my life and everyone else’s so suddenly. I felt sympathy for everyone else she knew, all of the other lives she touched, for her boyfriend, for her family. I regret not keeping in touch better after she transferred schools in our sophomore year. I regret not telling her how much her friendship meant to me, not realizing how much it meant until now.

I’ve never felt this empty, or numb, or hurt in my entire life. I don’t think my body or my mind knows how to process it. I know that she’s dead. I know that she’s gone and she’s not coming back. I know how it happened, and what she was doing.

But I still can’t accept it. I won’t.

Thinking about her today, I’ve realized a lot about what I loved about Anne and what she taught me in the time that I knew her. She was so passionate about helping others, had such a big heart, and was so courageous. She left shortly after graduation on her adventure with Bike and Build – totally unafraid, totally motivated by her purpose. Fearless.

If anything, she’s taught me that life’s too short – her death just reinforced that. Life’s too short to procrastinate, to not be passionate about anything, to be afraid. Life’s too short to not acknowledge the friends you haven’t spoken to in a while, to meet up with them every now and then, to tell them you love them, if you still do. It can be taken away so fast, and you might not get the chance again.

So I vow, in honor of Anne, to stop being afraid. I vow to get out of my own way, to challenge myself, and to give my whole heart to my passions and my friends and family.

Because life’s too short.

Rest easy, sweet girl.