Social Justice and the Classics: A Plan of Action for the Department
The Bryn Mawr Department of Greek, Latin, & Classical Studies is taking steps to address the long-standing problems in the field of Classics that involve exclusion and racial bias. We work closely with our counterpart department at Haverford, and Haverford’s departmental plan of action may be found here. The faculty in our departments have engaged with students and alums in discussions of what steps should be prioritized and how we should proceed with them. These conversations are ongoing, and we look forward to working together, not just with our faculty colleagues in both departments, but with the students and alums as well, and we welcome suggestions and ideas from all concerned.
The departmental web sites will be updated in 2020-2021 to include a list of resources for our students (and faculty) to educate themselves about the issues involving Classics in the contemporary world, particularly the history of the discipline and its complicity in structures of oppression and the ways in which current classicists are working to combat such problems. A preliminary list of such resources may be found here.
Expanding the Curriculum
We are making efforts to expand our curriculum beyond the narrow confines of the traditional Classics canon and to foster inquiry and critique of the processes by which it was formed and utilized. As our recent joint departmental review noted, our curriculum has undergone significant change in the past decade, particularly in the range of courses offered under the Classical Studies rubric, which now includes courses that address issues of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, health and disability in the ancient world, as well as an increasing number of courses that focus critically on the reception of classical antiquity in the modern and contemporary world, not just in the European tradition but across the broader global literary and cinematic traditions. We plan to continue this process of expanding the scope of our curriculum, including not just the Classical Studies courses but also the language courses in Greek and Latin, where many of the advanced seminars already focus on texts and authors outside the traditional canon. We also intend to improve our communication of the non-traditional content of our courses in the course descriptions and departmental information, since the familiar course titles (e.g. “Intermediate Latin”) may not adequately convey the content. We will work with our colleagues in both departments to update our course names, course choices, and course syllabi to better reflect our aims. New brochures for classes and for the curricular offerings each term may better convey the nature of our curriculum. We look forward to developing those ideas to expand our outreach to students who might never have thought to take a Classics course.
Supportive and Inclusive Learning Environment
We want to ensure that our students experience a supportive learning environment, both in the classrooms at Bryn Mawr and Haverford and in any programs during the summer or study abroad. When students report concerns to the faculty, we do our best to listen carefully to all involved, ascertain the facts of the situation, clear up any misunderstandings, and resolve the problems according to the spirit of the honor codes of both institutions. Although we realize such issues are not always resolved to the satisfaction of all in every case, we always make a good faith effort to bring about such resolutions whenever possible.
Student Feedback on Departmental Environment
In past years we have relied on Bryn Mawr’s Senior Exit Interview mechanism to provide us with an overview of student experience with the department. That process provides each student with a personal interview with a faculty member outside the department who then provides a report that is anonymized and collated with other senior responses. However, we plan to seek more specific methods. Our colleagues at Haverford have included our students in their college’s senior exit interview process that is conducted by senior members of the department with all graduating majors, but we are also planning to work with the Office of Institutional Research at Bryn Mawr to find a format for an annual survey asking for concerns or complaint that can maintain anonymity while still providing feedback that can be reviewed by faculty and students within the department. Such a survey would go, not just to exiting seniors, but to a wider group of students within the department.
Support of Future Scholars
We are particularly eager to encourage students from under-represented groups in our field who want to pursue an academic career, since we believe that substantive change in academia more broadly and our field in particular depends upon getting more scholars from these groups into permanent positions within the field. We have worked to encourage students eligible for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship to apply for this opportunity, and we have mentored and supported students who have been accepted into the program. The departments worked together with some of our recent MMUF students in 2018 to host a conference for MMUF fellows from around the country who have specific interests in Classics or the ancient world. This conference has served as a model for other institutions to make plans for such conferences that can expand the networks of these students within the wider Classics community and bring them into contact with peers and mentors to help them succeed. We have also encouraged and supported students to apply for the Leadership Alliance's Summer Research-Early Identification Program summer program. We have helped students who did not receive the MMUF or SR-EIP to apply for other programs that support independent research, such as the Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship, to provide more opportunities for individual mentorship and support. We intend to continue to encourage our students to apply for these opportunities, support them in the application process, and help to mentor them in these research programs.
The department has made efforts to foster student organizations, both formal and informal, which further the efforts for diversity and inclusion within our community. We provide support — logistical, material, and financial — for student activities, including inviting speakers to campus and even organizing small conferences. We will continue to support new organizations promoting these goals, since we believe that students and faculty need to work together to bring about change in the future.
Graduate Recruitment in the Bryn Mawr Department
In the graduate admissions process, realizing that students from under-represented groups in our field often suffer from disadvantages in their undergraduate education, we consider applicants from all kinds of backgrounds with the intention of expanding the diversity of our small graduate cohort. As we bring in only two or three students each year, we try to make the most of our opportunities. We have managed to bring the rate of recruitment to nearly 33%, but recruitment of minority students remains an ongoing challenge. Nevertheless, the Graduate Group (including Classics, Archaeology, and History of Art) has increased its minority recruitment by 200% over the past five years, and we want to continue those efforts. We will actively seek funds for a special graduate fellowship to be used for the recruitment of students from under-represented groups, like the existing Dean’s Fellowship which is used for the recruitment of international students. We plan to focus more efforts on individualized faculty support and mentoring of our recruited students.
We have consistently included graduate and undergraduate students in the hiring process for new faculty (both tenure-track and interim), and we plan to continue to expand the student role, since we recognize the vital variety of perspectives that the students can bring. We ensure that students have a voice in the process in a variety of ways, arranging meetings with candidates for students and soliciting their feedback from candidate talks. While college search guidelines mandate certain levels of confidentiality in the search process, we endeavor to provide as much transparency as we can throughout the process, since any new faculty hire will make an important impact on the students of the community.
Faculty Training for Diversity and Inclusion
The department’s faculty have in recent years taken part in a number of the workshops and training sessions focused on improving sensitivity to issues of racial and social injustice in the college environment, and all new faculty undergo orientation training that includes work on these issues. Faculty teaching evaluations are examined at both the departmental and college level so that there is accountability for faculty behavior. These institutional processes again represent only first steps in the efforts to improve the environment of the department, and we are making plans in conjunction with our colleagues at Haverford to identify and take part in further training programs, such as the Race Forward training sessions on Building Racial Equity. We intend to pursue more opportunities for funding to support training and guidance for our faculty, and we hope to incorporate the insights gleaned from such programs to improve the bi-college Classics curriculum and our teaching practices within it.
Consortium for Faculty Diversity
Since we cannot (as much as we would like to) simply add several more tenure-track lines to our department, we try to find other opportunities to increase the presence of scholars of color in the Department. The Bryn Mawr department has sponsored proposals for Consortium for Faculty Diversity Post-Doctoral Fellowships several times in the past few years. Although we have not had a proposal accepted by the administration in this college-wide process, we intend to continue to make such proposals as a way to support the scholarship of under-represented groups in our field and to increase the diversity of our departmental community.
As we invite speakers for the weekly Bryn Mawr Classics Colloquium, we strive to invite speakers that represent a broad range, both in the topics they address and in their personal backgrounds and career stages. While all members of the community have always been welcome to make suggestions for speakers, beginning in 2020-2021, we will directly solicit of student suggestions each year to ensure that more student voices are heard in the process. We hope that this will not only provide a more diverse set of topics in the Colloquium series but will also help expand the number of scholars from under-represented groups in our field who come as speakers to the college.