BIPOC Features: Daniel Libatique

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.

Check out this month’s post, featuring Daniel Libatique! I love reading about each contributor’s journey to studying the ancient world and their hopes for the future of the discipline, and I hope you do too! You can find previous posts in the series here.

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The Dissertation Prospectus (Hidden Curriculum #6)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month I’m talking the dissertation prospectus: what it is and how to write it.

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Congratulations, you’re a PhD candidate! You might be either celebrating the fact that you are done with exams and coursework or tentatively wondering, “Now what?” (Or both.) 

While you are definitely free from the constraints of courses and teaching, there still remains one final hurdle before you’re really free (aka ABD): the dissertation prospectus. In this post, I offer some general guidance for navigating this onerous and often inadequately explained requirement.

Writing the dissertation prospectus doesn't have to make you feel like this guy
Writing the dissertation prospectus doesn’t have to feel like this

Prospectus Timeline

As with everything, the timeline for writing and submitting the dissertation prospectus may vary somewhat from department to department. However, in general, there are certain steps that you usually must follow before officially changing your email signature to include “ABD” (all but dissertation).

These steps are, roughly:

  1. Assemble dissertation committee, including deciding on a chair or co-chairs, and submit through appropriate channels
  2. Consult with committee members about dissertation topic and possible approaches
  3. Draft dissertation prospectus
  4. Defend prospectus (aka meet with your committee members to discuss your draft)
  5. Complete revisions and submit prospectus to department for final approval
  6. Start dissertating!

This post focuses primarily on writing the prospectus. If you want to know more about how to approach other steps in this process – such as how to choose who’s on your committee or how to prepare for and what to expect at a defense – let me know!

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3 Steps to Implementing Antiracist Pedagogy (ARP)

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. 

Plastic vases from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
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BIPOC, POC, or Black?: A Note on Terminology

Last week I came across this tweet about the term ‘BIPOC’:

It reminded me of when I raised the question of what term people preferred to use when referring to people of color: BIPOC, POC, non-white, or some other term. I raised this question because even then there were mixed feelings about the use of ‘BIPOC’ when discussing the experiences of people of color.

I was genuinely surprised at the results (most people preferred ‘POC’) and the discussion it prompted. 

I’ll admit that when I first created this blog, I wasn’t 100% clear on how the term should or had been used. It was a new and thought-provoking term that I thought was more politically correct and inclusive than POC (which I now realize is part of the problem). 

Like most people, I didn’t do my research and just made the switch without really understanding the significance of (and problems with) the term.

When I asked POC studying the ancient world on Twitter last December to share who they were and what they studied as a way of signal-boosting historically excluded groups in the field, one individual claimed that using the term ‘BIPOC’ in my call for contributors was ‘insulting’:

Even now, it seems like the animosity toward the term remains. 

So, I figured that, since I continue to use the term in conjunction with this blog, it was time to set the record straight:

What does ‘BIPOC’ mean?

Where does it come from?

How should (and shouldn’t) it be used?

A Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020
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BIPOC Features: Ashley Lance

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.

Check out this month’s feature, written by Ashley Lance, to learn more about Ashley’s experiences with talking about identity and racial categories, how her identity relates to her work, and her thoughts on the future of Classics. Check out previous posts in the series here.

Ashley Lance
Photo included with permission of author
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Ways to Support Afghanistan and Afghan Refugees

Social media has grown much quieter on the topic over the last few days, but Afghanistan and Afghan refugees still need our help. In solidarity, I have decided to highlight some ways that US citizens can offer support by donating, volunteering, amplifying Afghan voices, and through advocacy.

There are many other organizations out there; as such, this list is not exhaustive. 

If there are issues that you are especially interested in that are not listed here, I encourage you to seek out organizations that you can help on your own. Twitter and Instagram are good places to start.

Although I have chosen to focus specifically on ways you can help from the US, there are of course numerous ways that people all over the world – including the UK and Canada – can continue to support Afghanistan and Afghan refugees. This Twitter thread suggests several options for UK citizens. Additional options for both the UK and Canada can be found in this Instagram post.

Donate

Kabul Small Animal Rescue (follow on Twitter @KSAnimalRescue for updates)

“Kabul Small Animal Rescue is dedicated to providing safe, healthy boarding options for their rescue partners, who help international adoptions of Afghan cats and dogs. Through their veterinary clinic, they provide high-quality medical care to owned dogs as well as veterinary care, boarding and adoption options to injured or orphaned street animals. Their main focus is to provide a home-like environment for the animals in their care, so they employ overnight staff to keep their cats company and make sure their dogs get several hours of play and socialization every day through monitored playgroups.”

Recently on Twitter: 

Kindle Project Afghanistan Fund (kindleproject.org / Afghanistan Fund)

“The Kindle Project Afghanistan Fund will provide support to organizations working with artists, artisans, women, and girls who are at risk inside Afghanistan or have managed to relocate outside of the country. Our goal is to raise a minimum of $250,000 as soon as possible. We are looking for donations of $5,000 and above.”

Miles4Migrants (miles4migrants.org)

“Miles4Migrants was formed in 2016 with the goal of helping families rejoin their loved ones as quickly as possible, and without undue financial hardship. As of June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 79.5 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide with over 26 million classified as refugees forced to leave their home countries. While many refugees are eventually able to return home, UNHCR estimates that over 1.445 million refugees are in need of resettlement, while at the same time, government resettlement quotas have dropped, leaving a significant gap in meeting resettlement needs globally.”

Nowzad (https://www.nowzad.com/donate

“Nowzad manages a dog shelter currently looking after over 140 dogs (most available for adoption!!) along with a cat shelter (over 40 cats and most available for adoption!) supported by a modern veterinary clinic staffed by a team of 24 Afghan nationals (including Afghanistan’s first female veterinarians) delivering care and attention to animals in distress.”

Rukhshana Media

From an article in The Guardian: “Now more than ever, Afghan women need a platform to speak for themselves. As the Taliban’s return haunts Afghanistan, the survival of Rukhshana Media depends on readers’ help. To continue reporting over the next crucial year, it is trying to raise $20,000. If you can help, go to this crowdfunding page.”

Sahar Speaks (http://www.saharspeaks.org/donate)

“The vision behind our programme can be seen in its name. “Sahar” is a common female name in Afghanistan, translating as “dawn.” Its meaning here is two-fold: it represents all Afghan women, and also heralds the beginning of a new era, where Afghan female reporters can tell their stories to the world. We hope to change the paradigm that has contributed to the marginalisation of women’s voices.” 

Volunteer

Afghan-American Women’s Association (a-awa.org)

“A-AWA’s vision is to build a Community Center, which will serve as a permanent structural foundation where the Afghan community can benefit from coordinated services aimed at preserving their culture and heritage and to unite the whole community together allowing them to reach their full potential.” Offering Virginia-based volunteer opportunities and taking donations.

Keeping Our Promise (keepingourpromise.org)

“Keeping Our Promise is the most comprehensive resettlement program for Afghan, Iraqi and Kurdish interpreters and support personnel in the United States today. ​Based in Rochester, NY, we assist with initial visa applications under the Special Immigrant Visa Program. Once visas are granted, we will find and furnish our allies’ first apartments, and help with finding employment. We help with a modest vehicle to get to work. Caring Circles help fully integrating families into their new lives so they can quickly become contributing members of the Rochester, NY community.” Opportunities for volunteering and community service, as well as fundraising.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (lirsconnect.org)

“Every day, our community of volunteers, ambassadors, congregations, and communities from across the country dedicate their time to welcoming new neighbors and educating their communities on issues related to migration and refugees.” This organization provides a lot of ways you can get involved, including donating money, taking action, and advocacy.

New American Pathways (newamericanpathways.org)

“New American Pathways is an Atlanta based nonprofit with the mission of Helping Refugees and Georgia Thrive. Our vision is for new Americans in metro Atlanta to become successful, contributing, and welcomed members of Georgia’s communities. We fulfill our goals by offering the most comprehensive, fully integrated continuum of services targeted to meet the specific needs of refugees and other immigrants in Georgia.” You can volunteer your time, donate items, or donate money.

Advocate

Video on the importance of contacting your local representatives by @zhashx:

Email the White House with a pre-filled form: act.rescue.org/yRqHe9p

Call script and email template: bit.ly/afghanistanemergency

Amplify

This whole Twitter thread by Bushra Ebadi:

Amplify the voices and work of Afghan scholars:

And, finally, resist the temptation to wax poetic or intellectualize about the loss of artifacts. Saving lives is more important.

Check out more ways to get involved in this Twitter thread by The Sportula.

Small (Anti-Racist) Teaching

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?

Small Teaching by James Lang

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.

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5 Things I Wish I’d Known My First Time Teaching

If there’s anything you know about me, it’s that I’m always thinking about teaching. It’s a wonder that this entire blog isn’t dedicated to the subject. 

But since it’s August (!) and a new school year is suddenly right around the corner (!!) I figured now was the perfect time to share some thoughts about teaching.

My first time teaching was in Fall 2017

Over the last year there have been tons of resources created and shared relating to pedagogy, including this recent workshop organized by the Women’s Classical Caucus. Many of these aimed to remedy the fact that pedagogical training is severely lacking in Classics, and provide support to instructors at all levels and stages in their teaching careers.

What all of these workshops and resources have taught me, at least, is just how much I was missing when I first started teaching. Here are just a few things I wish I’d known way back then.

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Toxic Productivity in Academia and How to Overcome It

Expecting ourselves and others to continue working as normal – and sometimes even harder than normal – is not only unrealistic, it’s unsustainable. It’s downright cruel. It’s the definition of toxic productivity.

Who is the work you’re doing for? 

Is the work you’re doing (or that you’re asking others to do) really so important that it’s worth sacrificing your mental health and overall wellbeing? (Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka would say no, it isn’t.)

Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics
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Yes, Classics is Toxic (Reprise)

It’s been a little over six months since I published “Yes, Classics is Toxic”, and it seemed only apt that I revisit it now. Somehow, we seem to be in the same place today that we were in December. I wish I could say I was surprised. 

Kerry Washington Scandal GIF by ABC Network - Find & Share on GIPHY

Two things come to mind as I sit and think about the current #ClassicsTwitter fiasco: on the one hand, Classics remains toxic. On the other hand, the role of respectability politics in that toxicity.

First, a note on respectability.

According to Wikipedia, respectability politics is made up of three main facets:

  1. Reinforcing a hierarchy to contrast a respectable individual against a shameful other
  2. Encouraging people to defy stereotypes attributed to different aspects of their identity in attempts to present one’s self as respectable
  3. Tailoring one’s behavior to better comply with white, middle-class cultural norms, and consequently reinforce the status quo

In essence, respectability politics concerns who is deserving of respect and what it means to be respectful in particular contexts and within particular groups. Obviously, in this case that context is academia.

The term is most often used in discussions of what one should or shouldn’t wear in ‘professional’ settings – a topic that recently blew up on Twitter. However, this is not my primary concern here. Instead, I want to address power relationships more broadly.

Let’s get more specific and break down this definition a little further.

Reinforcing a hierarchy to contrast a respectable individual against a shameful other

This is manifest in academia in at least four ways, all of which are based in one’s personal ideologies. This can be summed up in the following way: that white, male, straight, and nondisabled individuals are more deserving of respect than those who are not. 

In addition to these things, we must also include the power imbalance inherent in the professor-student dichotomy.

It has been demonstrated in the last few months (at least) that Mary Beard adheres to this particular ideology in at least three of the five ways listed above. She regularly uses her position (senior academic, public scholar) and her massive following on social media (nearly 300k) to harm those over whom she believes she has power. 

In the latest instances, she has intentionally quote-tweeted a trans student and a student of color, inciting a deluge of harassment that ranges from absurd to downright nasty.

That this has happened more than once and that she has actively sought out and exposed those (with much smaller followings, and who she herself usually does not follow) who criticize her makes it impossible for her to plead innocence or ignorance. 

She has knowingly caused harm to precarious and historically excluded groups in our discipline. 

She has knowingly contributed to the toxicity of the discipline which she herself has tried to erase.

In her ‘woe is me’ defense – which she has also used on multiple occasions – she flips the script and makes those who criticize her out to be the ‘bad’ ones. Often they are shamed by her followers for their lack of respect – whether this is by tone-policing or by simply chastising them for not showing deference to a scholar of her caliber.

This shouldn’t have to be said (again – I can’t remember who said it first) but being a prolific scholar does not give you a free pass to be a racist or a transphobe. Sorry.

Encouraging people to defy stereotypes attributed to different aspects of their identity in attempt to present one’s self as respectable

For BIPOC studying the ancient world, making it in the discipline is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it’s an accomplishment. You’ve done what few others have done before you. You are contributing to changing the appearance of the field, which will in the long run have effects on how many more BIPOC will be attracted to it in the future.

On the other hand, it’s a loss. It’s not a question of whether or not you will lose something of yourself in the process, but when and how much. 

How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to ‘make it’ in this field which is growing more toxic by the day? How much are you willing to give in order to help make it better?

For many of us, openly criticizing problematic, senior members of the field is a huge risk. And, as recent events have shown, apparently even subtweeting them is dangerous. For some it’s a risk worth taking, but for others, it just isn’t.

It might seem heroic for white allies to speak on behalf of their BIPOC colleagues, but this can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and hierarchies in the field. It’s true that some people will only listen to the complaints of those who look like them, but what that does is contribute to the idea that the only legitimate critiques come from white (male, tenured, etc) individuals.

Rather than trying to give a ‘voice to the voiceless’ in every instance, step aside and give BIPOC the mic. Insist that they should be listened to and amplify their stories. Legitimize their narratives and opinions, rather than contribute to the idea that they are too ‘emotional’ or ‘aggressive’ or ‘passionate’ to be taken seriously. 

Tailoring one’s behavior to better comply with white, middle-class cultural norms, and consequently reinforce the status quo

What the long history of tone policing and respectability politics more broadly in academia has done is tried (and often succeeded) in putting individuals from historically excluded groups ‘in their place’ (in the hierarchy).

We have to learn to ‘fit in’ in order to survive in a field built on white cultural norms and ideals, and often this means playing nice and not rocking the boat, even at the expense of our own safety and mental health. 

When we do have the courage to voice our opinions – well, as we have seen, it doesn’t always end well.

God forbid someone lodge a valid criticism of another scholar in our field. Criticism and civility are not mutually exclusive. 

I used to think that this was the only way anything in this field would change. Forcing people to confront their problematic assumptions and behaviors, I thought, would set them on a path toward changing their tune and that this would have a domino effect.

But Mary Beard and her supporters have really shown that there are enormous roadblocks in this path. The most glaring one is a lack of accountability and consequences. 

How many instances of harm is it going to take for people like her to finally be deplatformed?

Clearly, more gentle routes – like having an honest conversation about those harms – do not work for everyone. This is especially true when it comes to folks who refuse to see what they are doing for what it really is, and instead take to playing the victim time and time again.

We aren’t kids on a playground. Stop accusing precarious ECRs of bullying you when the facts are all there. It’s despicable, and frankly it’s getting old.