WCC UK Steering Committee Statement On Events At The 2019 Society For Classical Studies/Archaeological Institute Of America Meeting


Last week, we issued a joint statement with the Council of University Classics Departments and the Institute of Classical Studies deploring the incidents of overt racism which occurred at the AIA/SCS conference in San Diego. We repeat our censure of the behaviour targeted at Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta and at Djesika Bel Watson and Stefani Echeverría-Fenn, representatives of the Sportula. Professor Padilla Peralta has written powerfully about his experience, while the Sportula team have responded by organising their own on-line conference. Professor Padilla Peralta has now published the text of the paper he gave at the “Future of Classics” panel which raises serious questions about the under-representation of scholarship by women and people of colour in journals in our field, and challenges us to examine the role of structural factors, unconscious and explicit prejudice, in these exclusions. We are aware that some classicists, including former and present journal editors, have begun to respond to his challenge to reflect on and transform their practice; we urge this activity to continue.

In the joint statement published on Monday, we commented that ‘None of these problems are confined by national borders, and the UK community, including our organisations, has a long way to go in reckoning with their manifestations in our own country.’ Dr. Josephine Quinn has written eloquently about minimization which took place during and after the conference, both along national lines and in attempts to excuse the incident that targeted Professor Padilla Peralta by marginalising those who experience mental illness and those who work as independent scholars. The report by the Royal Historical Society on Race, Ethnicity and Equality shows the depth of the problem in one of our sister disciplines; we welcome the news in the November 2018 minutes that Council of University Classics Departments intend to commission a similar report examining the situation within our discipline.

One of the WCC UK’s aims since its foundation has been to advance equality and diversity in classics; anti-racist work is a fundamental part of supporting classics without white fragility. We support efforts of disciplinary bodies and other institutions to examine and change their own practices, and we recognise that we have much to learn both as individuals and as an organisation. In our 2018 AGM, we included a critical whiteness workshop precisely to begin talking about these issues. The workshop succeeded in that it did start a conversation, and gave us confidence that we are able to facilitate these discussions among our members. Yet we failed to anticipate that colleagues of colour would be asked to perform a disproportionate amount of labour and that we did not do all we could to prepare attendees for the kind of self-reflection necessary to engage productively in anti-racism training. We didn’t get it right – but we recognise our responsibility to learn from our mistakes and to do better.

To that end, our 2019 AGM in Cardiff will include a town hall style meeting to discuss our experiences of racism within the discipline and develop strategies to respond to them. As part of this, we intend to take account of the interconnectivity of racism and xenophobia within UK society in general, as well as drawing attention to the ways in which UK classics is robbed of the richness of perspective brought by people from all ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, we hope to support attendees in developing strategies to engage with current institutional structures that require change if we are to tackle racism head-on within the discipline. We also intend to organise a separate on-line event on activism and allyship, which will explore the various intersections between feminism, race, class and disability. Its goal will be to start developing future strategies and to give members the confidence to take grassroots action in their local communities against both highly visible and more insidious kinds of prejudice. As an organisation, we recognise the part we can (indeed, should) play in striving for inclusivity in classics and hope that these events will lay foundations for encouraging change within the discipline.

If you would like more information about the AGM, or would like to be involved in organising our on-line event, please e-mail the Administrator at womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com.

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