I have talked about antiracist teaching on here in the past. This week I want to delve deeper into why I think antiracist pedagogy (ARP) is important and some ways that we can implement it in our classrooms.
I’ve always been skeptical of diversity and inclusion initiatives that include offering more courses that might ‘appeal’ to people of color and draw them in. This manifests as offering or amplifying existing courses on ‘race and ethnicity,’ on ‘slavery in the ancient world,’ and on the relationship between ‘barbarians’ and Greeks and/or Romans.
In the absence of more structural reforms, I have always viewed such an approach as a trap.
Courses on these topics are absolutely necessary (although certain choices in vocabulary are not) for exposing students to alternate perspectives, ones which both challenge and complement dominant narratives about the ancient world. Without such perspectives, our understanding of the ancient world would be incomplete.
However, when implemented poorly, these courses reflect a persistent two-part illusion.
Something that I’ve found interesting is thinking about how common or popular techniques in academia can be applied to anti-racist pedagogy. In particular, I did this a few months ago when I talked about doing anti-racism work the SMART way. More recently, I read James Lang’s book Small Teaching.
While I found the book generally helpful and well-written, I found myself asking how could small teaching contribute to anti-racist pedagogy?
Every instructor, at one point or another, is faced with deciding how to deal with difficult subject matter and moments in the classroom. Ideally, such decisions should be made before anything difficult comes up, but often this is not the case.
For some, dealing with difficult topics and moments – including racism – in the classroom can seem like a Herculean task. Being expected to know when and how to intervene in such situations is a lot of pressure, especially when you’re faced with them for the first time. Plus, it can be emotionally and mentally draining for both you and your students, depending on your positionality in relation to the topic.
So, it should come as no surprise that often, when we’re asked to make changes to the way we teach, we don’t follow through. We are turned off by the idea of some great upheaval in the way we’ve always done things because it seems like such an onerous, time- and energy-consuming task.
I can guarantee that this is one of the driving factors in many instructors’ hesitation to actively reflect and adapt in the face of recent calls for more anti-racist curricula.
I recently saw a Tweet that emphasized the true purpose of anti-racism work: repair, restoration, and sacrifice where necessary.
The third element – sacrifice – particularly struck me, especially as I was trying to think of what this week’s blog post would be about. It put the ongoing debates about the vitality of the field of Classics into a new perspective.
Those who have argued for ‘burning it all down’ know what it would mean to make sacrifices for the betterment of the discipline; those who oppose and criticize the idea of reforming Classics are simply afraid of a little discomfort. They would rather see a discipline rife with problems continue to thrive than sacrifice some things in order to at least begin to solve those problems.
This makes me think of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s concept of ‘fear of a black planet’ — the fear that by giving black people any power at all, the cultural hierarchy would be inverted and white people would be completely powerless and oppressed. (A similar concern was raised about the term ‘intersectionality‘. Do I sense a theme?)
What would the equivalent be for Classics? Fear of a BIPOC discipline?
I’d like to say that this is only characteristic of the old, white, tenured contingency of the discipline, but that just isn’t the case. We all need to make sacrifices, some much bigger than others, if we want to make progress in making Classics an anti-racist discipline.
This morning I participated in a plenary session for a workshop on anti-racist and decolonial curricula in archaeology hosted by the Columbia Center for Archaeology. In my talk, I framed the topic of anti-racist curricula in terms of mentorship, and the ways in which good mentorship could help alleviate the pressures placed on first-gen, marginalized, and underrepresented students in Classical Studies and archaeology by the hidden curriculum.
The Hidden Curriculum
The hidden curriculum is a set of skills or norms that individuals are expected to know, particularly in academia, without being formally taught them.
On this blog, I have taken a particular interest in the hidden curriculum, and have made several blog posts illuminating different aspects of it.
Skills and norms which are part of the hidden curriculum include:
What to wear and how to act when attending a conference
How to interview for a (usually academic) job
These range from seemingly simple skills to more complex ones. However, our assumptions about individuals’ knowledge of these skills and norms disproportionately harm students from marginalized backgrounds. These students feel they must put in twice the work to keep up with their peers.
Here are some ways that we can better support students throughout their academic careers.
As I mentioned earlier this week on Instagram, despite the fact that spring is (finally!) right around the corner, we continue to be deeply entangled with our screens – from working from home, to doom-scrolling on social media, to organizing and attending virtual events as part of our anti-racism work.
One of the things that I wanted to do with Notes From the Apotheke was to amplify the voices and contributions of BIPOC scholars in ancient studies, at all levels and from all backgrounds.BIPOC in the field are invited to reflect on what brought them to studying the ancient world, as well as offer their opinions on the future of the discipline and share any work they are especially proud of or excited about.
For the very first installment of this monthly BIPOC Feature series, I am deeply grateful to Maia Lee-Chin for being willing to share her journey and insights into the field.
Despite my best efforts, I can’t avoid the Classics discourse. Several reactions to the recent email debacle gave me pause last night. It made me think: it’s time for some reflection, and some hard truths. It’s time for us to wake up, and act.
A few weeks ago, following a talk at the AIA-SCS annual meeting wherein an instructor talked about asking their students to justify slavery, I invited everyone to consider whether they were doing harm in their classrooms. Today, I want us to go further than that.
When I heard about the new Netflix film, “The Dig” (2021), I’ll admit I wasn’t that excited.
Maybe I’m disillusioned by all of the talks, conferences, and workshops on anti-racism, and the ongoing commentary on Classics’ white supremacist foundations. My first thought when I saw the trailer was: “Do we really need more films about white archaeologists?”
It’s 2021; we know BIPOC archaeologists exist. Where’s the representation?
Anyway, I watched it, more so that I could say that I did and so that I could write this blog post from an informed perspective. This is not a review of the film. Consider it instead a review of the great mess that is the lack of diversity in films about archaeology.
As we all settle back into our routines and Winter terms begin in earnest, I figured it was a good time to revisit the anti-racism work that (hopefully) began in many departments and institutions last year.
If you made meaningful progress toward creating an inclusive, anti-racist environment for your BIPOC students and colleagues, that’s great. But the work isn’t done.
Anti-racism work isn’t a box you can just check before getting on with your life. Racism isn’t something that can be eliminated overnight, or with a change in administration (Bye, Don!). So, if you’re in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, here are a few things that you can do this year to continue your anti-racism work.
If there’s anything 2020 taught me, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted, especially your health, time, or energy. While the pandemic made us more connected than ever, it caused many of us to spread ourselves too thin. Although the pandemic is ongoing, a new year still brings the potential for change. One of my new year’s resolutions is to practice more self care.
One way of doing this is by distancing myself from things that don’t serve me. Here are just a few things I’m not wasting my energy on in 2021.