ByCora Beth Fraser, WCC UK Co-Chair and working-class classicist
The Women’s Classical Committee UK welcomes the report today on Class in Classics, compiled by the Network for Working-Class Classicists and supported by the Classical Association and the EDI Committee of the Council of University Classics Departments.
The report draws attention to an issue which we have all been aware of in Classics: that working-class people are underrepresented in the discipline, from undergraduate study through to professional employment. We have always known this – but thanks to the large-scale survey conducted by the Network for Working-Class Classicists and analysed in the Class in Classics Report, for the first time we can see the scale and impact of the imbalance. The report also helps to illuminate how working-class underrepresentation intersects with other characteristics to produce even greater imbalances for particular groups – one of which is working-class women, who are at a ‘double disadvantage’ (p.22 of the report).
The Class in Classics report gives us at the WCC UK a useful lens through which to view our own initiatives. It highlights the areas in which we are ahead of the discipline as a whole in modelling inclusive practice, and it also points out areas where we should develop our activism further in the future, in order to benefit working-class women and non-binary people in Classics.
The Class in Classics report authors offer a number of practical recommendations for addressing elements of socio-economic disadvantage. Many of these recommendations endorse (explicitly or otherwise) the existing procedures and policies of the WCC in relation to financial support.
Our Small Grants Scheme, offering grants of up to £150 to members, makes payment upon approval of the grant, in line with the report’s recommendation to ‘avoid reimbursement systems whenever possible’ (p.52). The WCC recognises that reimbursement culture is inherently discriminatory, accessible only to the people who can afford to pay up-front costs, and acting as a barrier to those most in need of financial assistance.
The report (p.52) also references WCC good practice in naming the Small Grants Scheme:
The report (p.52) recommends careful phrasing on grant application forms, to avoid off-putting language or the implication that applicants have to prove their poverty:
‘Hardship funds should be renamed. “Hardship” can be a stigmatising term and it can also deter potential applicants if they believe they are not experiencing sufficient hardship. Consider borrowing phrasing from Sportula Europe (‘microgrants’) or the Women’s Classical Committee (‘small grants’).’
‘Similarly, revise policies that require applicants to demonstrate extreme poverty and/or exhaustion of commercial credit schemes before being considered for funding.’
At the WCC, our Small Grants application process requires applicants to explain the purpose of their application, the nature of the event or activity and how the grant will be spent; but there is no requirement for the applicant to plead poverty or divulge details of their financial circumstances.
The Class in Classics report (p.50) draws attention to inequality of access, particularly to conferences and similar events, and the impact of that on belonging, networking and professional development.
‘Online or hybrid conferences improved accessibility, particularly for those with disabilities or caring responsibilities; but there is a concern that this mode of attendance is already being phased out, and that it does not provide adequate networking opportunities.’
The WCC has been very aware that online and hybrid access to events continues to be important, particularly for women who might have caring responsibilities. Our events continue to be either wholly online or hybrid, and there are no plans to remove that access option.
Access for those with caring responsibilities has been an issue of concern to the WCC for some time. In 2020 the WCC’s Caring in Classics Network published a set of guidelines for Supporting Carers and Organising Events, designed for the use of anyone organising either in-person or online events. In these guidelines we stated:
‘The provision of support for those with caring responsibilities is a central strategy for ensuring gender diversity, not only in practical provision that helps to get women in the room, but in empowering those who are not white, male, middle-class and able-bodied to feel that they are included and that they can productively contribute to the scholarly conversation.’
We welcome the renewed attention that the Class in Classics report will bring to the issue of support for access, which continues to be a key issue for the WCC.
The Class in Classics report (p.29) makes the point that it is difficult to talk about class:
‘Class has become such a difficult subject to broach that even in this anonymous survey there were concerns about saying the wrong thing.’
This is an important factor to emphasise, and perhaps suggests a need for a cautious approach to visibility, despite the report’s call for more working-class role models. It is difficult to speak out, and it also carries professional risks, because as many of the comments featured in the report highlight, people who talk about class in university Classics departments are often seen as disruptive or treated as outsiders.
In counterpoint to the report’s call for greater public visibility, the WCC recently lent its support to a confidential ‘safe space’ trial group for working-class women in Classics. Chaired by Dr Elizabeth Pender, Class Acts ran from 2021 to 2023 in the North of England, trialling co-operative peer support among a small group of working-class classicists with similar backgrounds. Its focus on individual and regional working-class experiences was designed to respond organically to the needs of participants. The Class Acts trial is currently being evaluated, with a view to embedding future versions of the group within existing WCC initiatives.
The Class in Classics report recommends a number of support strategies which the WCC UK put in place some years ago. We would like to see these becoming universal standards, reaching not just those classicists who have discovered the WCC, but everyone who comes into Classics.
Class is an uncomfortable topic for us to talk about in the UK, but the remarkable number of responses to the Class in Classics Survey (1,206) suggests that there is a real need to open up the discussion in Classics. At the WCC we look forward to playing a part in these essential conversations.
The Women’s Classical Committee UK is delighted to have been awarded Wikimedia UK’s Partnership of the Year prize for their initiative #WCCWiki. #WCCWiki is an example of successful community activism, where volunteers come together regularly to improve the representation of classicists who identify as women and non-binary on Wikipedia. Classics is very broadly conceived, including historians, archaeologists, theorists, translators, poets, and others who work on the ancient world. Wikimedia UK, the organisation that runs Wikipedia, have recognised #WCCWiki’s fantastic work in transforming the online representation of classicists and helping to challenge Wikipedia’s intractable gender gap.
One of our most prolific and dedicated #WCCWiki members, Lucy Moore, has been doubly recognised by Wikimedia UK as Wikimedian of the Year. The award celebrates Lucy’s tireless editing to improve Wikimedia’s diversity and inclusion as a platform, across class, gender, disability and race. Lucy is an excellent role model, both in her dedication and in her combination of professional academic and curatorial activities, and Wikimedia work.
Before #WCCWiki started, women and non-binary people, historical and contemporary, in classics were a largely unrepresented online demographic. An estimate in 2016 found that only 7% of biographies of classicists on Wikipedia featured women. #WCCWiki has held 62 editathons since then, shifting to online events during the pandemic. #WCCWiki has created or edited more than 600 Wikipedia pages, including path-breaking foremothers who were only referred to on their husbands’ pages, such as Dr Miriam T. Griffin, Dr Annie Ure, and Professor Leslie Brubaker. As of July 2021, 17.7% of the total of classicists’ biographies on Wikipedia now feature women. With every month, the proportion of Wikipedia biographies featuring classicists who identify as women or non-binary continues to increase.
The pace of change means that, on average every other day, a page for a woman or non-binary classicist is created or edited. Expanded, inclusive categorisation allows #WCCWiki to increase our scope, creating and editing pages for historians and writers working on later periods, such as Professor Olivette Otele, Dr Sadiah Qureshi, and Nikita Gill. #WCCWiki articles have featured regularly on Wikipedia’s front page and an increasing number have achieved Good Article status. #WCCWiki has collaborated successfully with other organisations that aim to improve diversity and inclusion on Wikimedia, including the Wikiproject Women in Red and Medieval Wiki, and #WCCWiki has received valuable support from Wikimedia UK in running events.
But despite the huge effort of #WCCWiki, the scale of the problem means that the overall percentage of pages for classicists that feature women is still only around 20%, which is consistent with Wikipedia’s wider gender bias where pages for women are outnumbered 5:1 by pages for men. The #WCCWiki Wikidata Redlist records 2,700+ women classicists that still do not have pages. Women and non-binary classicists who have made significant contributions to the field still lack proper representation online. #WCCWiki will continue to inspire volunteers and spread the message about the importance of inclusion and diversity online for as long as necessary, and we gladly anticipate when this work is obsolete.
By Victoria Leonard, WCC founding member, former co-chair, and steering committee member, and #WCCWiki organiser
The WCC UK conference graduate mentoring scheme will run for the third time at this year’s Classical Association Conference in Swansea, 8th-11th April 2022 (postponed from 2020). This scheme matches mentors and mentees for a one-off mentoring meeting during the conference. Mentees should be enrolled on an MA or PhD course at any stage from registration to post-viva final submission; mentors should consider themselves mid-late career. We would particularly like to encourage senior staff members (Senior Lecturers/Readers/Associate Professors/Professors) to sign up as mentors. Both mentors and mentees can sign up using the same form here. Applications close at midnight on Monday 21st March 2022. Pairs will be put in touch by Friday 25th March 2022. People need not be attending the conference in person to participate in this scheme. Virtual meetups can also be facilitated.
To access this, you should be a member of the WCC UK in good standing; please see the Membership Page for details.
These guidelines are designed to assist those who are organising conferences and other events to support those participating in events who have or are affected by caring responsibilities. The provision of support for those with caring responsibilities is a central strategy for ensuring gender diversity and inclusion. People of all genders and at all career stages can be affected by a range of caring issues, touching on care for older people, care for younger people, children, and infants, care for disabled people, and kinship care. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues and obstacles faced by those with caring responsibilities, and we hope that the Guidelines will be particularly beneficial in addressing this urgent imbalance.
The guidelines encourage event organisers and institutions to take three steps in providing support for those with caring responsibilities: 1. think and plan; 2. reach out; and 3. support. Whilst these guidelines have been developed primarily for the Classics community, they are more widely relevant across higher education in the UK and beyond.
We encourage you to download the guidance, direct people to it, send it to people you think will benefit from it, and use it yourself.
This document is an evolving work-in-progress that will be updated to reflect best practice. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please do e-mail us at: womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com.
In response to feedback gathered from members, the WCC UK is developing a mentoring scheme with three strands. The first is the Take a Grad Student to Lunch Scheme, which ran successfully for the second time in Summer 2019. The second, launched here, is the Co-Mentoring Triads Scheme.
The Co-Mentoring Triads Scheme is designed to facilitate a fixed-term, mutually beneficial mentoring arrangement to be established among three members, to avoid the hierarchy present in traditional mentoring relationships. Co-mentoring triads will run for one academic year. Triads will be grouped together around specific themes and interests that the members wish to explore in the coming year, as well as other factors such as preferred method of communication and location. Members from all careers and career stages are welcome to sign up. Triads will be matched up by the Mentoring Officer and informed of their triad’s membership by the end of September.
Initial contact will be made by e-mail. Other methods of communication will be agreed upon at the triad’s discretion; these may include e-mail discussions, Skype calls or in-person meetings. Regularity of contact will be determined at the discretion of the triad. Triads are expected to contact each other at least four times over the course of the year. Worksheets and guidance will be provided by the WCC UK which may help to structure the mentoring arrangement. You are not obliged to use these, but they may help you to get the most out of your triad. Please be reasonable with your demands on your colleagues’ time and respectful of the commitment they have made to you. By signing up to the scheme you agree to abide by the WCC UK’s Mentoring Code of Conduct.
The scheme is open to all WCC UK members in good standing. Please sign up here by Friday 13th September. If you have any questions about the scheme, please contact the Acting Mentoring Officer, Christine Plastow, at christine.plastow [at] open.ac.uk.
The WCC UK warmly invites members to consider proposing an event to be held under WCC UK auspices.
As outlined in our events policy, we run events with an organising team made up of three people (or a triad), one of whom needs to be a steering committee member or liaison; any member is welcome to put an event proposal forward for the steering committee’s approval.
To help members who would like to put on an event but perhaps haven’t had any experience of event organising yet, we have put together a short guide titled So You’re Organising A WCC UK Event: An Event Organiser’s Starter Pack. It gives helpful advice on how to propose an event as well as useful tips on event organisation which we’ve picked up over the last few years. We hope that this pack will make organising a WCC UK event more straightforward, and will demystify some of the things that go on behind the scenes to get our programming together.
If you a PhD student or an early career colleague who is interested in finding out more about running an event but not quite ready to propose one of your own, we offer the opportunity to shadow a triad to gain some some experience of event organisation; if this sounds like something you would be interested in, drop a line to the Administrator at womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com.
Dr. Katherine Harloe of the University of Reading reports on discussions from our AGM.
We are all aware of the problem of casualisation in UK Higher Education,
as universities seek to cut costs, and respond to
volatility in student numbers, by relying on fixed-term staff rather than
creating open-ended posts. Many Classics Departments are presently in
institutions operating non-replacement of posts for permanent staff; others
have gone further and opened voluntary redundancy schemes, with compulsory
redundancies actively being considered for next year.
Given this context, it seemed important for the WCC UK to address the problem of casualisation in discussions at our 2019 AGM. The casualisation break-out group held a very full, urgent discussion, which could have gone on for much longer given the scale of the problem and the multiple issues and disadvantages being faced. It was particularly useful to have a mixture of those at the sharp end of casualisation (including some who have by now spent up to a decade on short-term contracts, with no end in sight); finishing PhDs contemplating the academic labour market; more senior/established staff who might be in a position to influence institutions’ policies and practices, even at a local level; and active members of UCU branch committees.
It was agreed that the problem of casualisation has been getting worse in UK universities. Every year the jobs advertised appear to be fewer and worse in terms of working conditions/types of contract, and casualisation has clear, long-term negative effects upon individuals’ lives (including the ability to establish and maintain family life), research agendas, mental and physical health, as well as upon research cultures and the sense of academic community within and across UK Classics Departments.
Specific negative consequences of casualisation impact not only upon casualised academics themselves but also upon the undergraduates and postgraduates they teach or supervise. Since the latter are articulated less often than the former, it is worth noting that the ‘student-side’ problems noticed less often include lack of opportunities for doctoral supervision (a negative both for prospective supervisors and for prospective supervisees, if a person with particular expertise does not hold a position where they can supervise doctoral researchers); lack of continuity in lecturers and personal tutors, which can lead to lack of suitable referees when graduates are entering the job market. These all have a negative effect on ‘the student experience’ and student satisfaction; some casualised staff also feel that they are accorded less authority and/or respect, both by students and by colleagues, than staff on open-ended contracts.
A lot of the discussion centred around measures that could be taken at that level to alleviate the conditions of casualised staff, although the group recognised that bigger, structural questions need to be addressed if the UK HE sector’s ever-increasing reliance on casualised staff is to be reversed. Drawing on the experience of long-term casualised staff, we came up with a short wish-list of suggestions, in no particular order. These are addressed primarily to Heads of Department and Departmental Directors of Teaching and Learning, that could ease, even if only marginally, the lives of casualised staff
1. Pay relocation costs of staff arriving to fill temporary contracts. This is something that is almost never offered, although a few departments now require any permanent staff who are applying for research funding that includes teaching replacement to include relocation costs in their project costings, where this is an allowable expense under the scheme.
2. Aim to offer a minimum 12–month contract, which includes research time/university vacation pay. Some discussion took place around the challenges faced by those who had spent a long time on fractional, teaching-only contracts in maintaining their competitiveness for contracts which included a research element, but it was felt overall that it was better to hold teaching and research together if at all possible, since this would be of greatest long-term benefit to aspiring academics.
3. Increase uniformity in application procedure/expected paperwork for temporary posts, across different UK Classics Departments. Ideal from the point of view of prospective applicants would be a single, simple, online form for all UK Classics applications; although this is probably unrealisable, it was felt that the application process could often be simplified and Classics departments could collaborate, through subject associations, to increase uniformity in some areas. The next two points also relate to this:
4. Make the eligibility criteria explicit in job advertisements and further particulars. In particular, different definitions of ‘early-career’ are used in the sector and in different institutions; this can involve a great deal of wasted effort when prospective applicants discover at a late stage that they are not in fact eligible for a particular postdoc or funding scheme. It was felt strongly that an ‘early-career researcher’ should be redefined as ‘someone who does not have a permanent academic post’.
5. When designing an application process, consider carefully what you require of candidates at each stage, and consider only taking up references, asking for research samples, etc., at point of shortlisting. It is asking a lot of candidates to expect them to produce detailed, institution-specific module plans before they have even been longlisted, and requiring references at Stage 1 increased burdens on candidates and referees. Consider whether you can long-list, or even short-list, on the basis of CV and covering letter/application form alone.
6. Offer honorary, non-stipendiary research positions after close of contract, to enable underemployed or unemployed scholars to maintain some library/electronic resources access, as well as access to academic community. A related suggestion, for WCC UK to take up, was to ask the Institute of Classical Studies to consider establishing an electronic resources/institutional email account for independent scholars who are paid-up members of Senate House Library.
7. Prioritise the needs of casualised staff when timetabling teaching. Pull out all the stops to bunch their teaching onto fewer days in order to minimise their travel costs if commuting long distances to fulfil a fractional contract (see too point 1 above)
8. Allow casualised staff, even on teaching-only contracts, access to conference expenses funding, research and development opportunities, and institutional research support (e.g. help with grant writing) that is available to staff on open-ended contracts. This is appropriate in recognition of the fact that many such staff are experienced and/or aspiring researchers who have a contribution to make beyond their immediate labour as lecturers.
Many of these recommendations correspond to those made in the openly available Council of University Classical Departments Protocol on Academic Staffing, last revised 2017. It was felt that UK Classics Departments, many of whom are CUCD members, could be more mindful of this document than they have proven to be so far.
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.
We are very grateful to WCC UK member Christine Plastow of the Open University for writing up her notes of important take-away points and for sharing her response from our recent REF 2021 consultation event.
On Tuesday 18th September, the WCC UK met at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes to consult on the draft guidelines for submission for REF 2021. We were also able to livestream the event, and so were joined by colleagues around the country listening in and contributing. The event was led by Maria Wyke, the sub-panel chair for Classics, and Katherine Harloe, member of the Classics sub-panel and an interdisciplinary advisor for REF 2021.
Professor Wyke opened the discussion, stating that the event was an opportunity for the sub-panel to present the material produced by REF, and that REF were interested in gathering information about whether disciplinary interests have been addressed successfully in the draft guidelines. What follows here highlights the main points of discussion throughout the event.
Codes of practice
It was noted that institutions have been tasked with producing codes of practice prior to REF 2021 for the selection of staff and outputs for submission. The staff selected should be all of those with significant responsibility for research. Concern was expressed for the institution’s individual freedom in making these decisions. The sub-panel members asserted that codes of practice would be assessed by REF, in part against HESA definitions of staff roles. Codes of practice can be sent back for revision if deemed inadequate, and submissions could be damaged by institutions failing to provide a correct submission. However, if institutions do not adhere to their codes of practice once approved, this will need to be appealed by individuals within the institution, as the sub-panel will not be able to spot failure to adhere to the code of practice from the submissions. All codes of practice must include an appeals procedure.
Institutions will be expected to provide commentary on any adjustments to the submission due to special circumstances. However, decoupling of staff from submissions means that outputs are a group effort, and it may not be necessary to apply reductions to specific individuals. Two kinds of reductions are specified: defined reductions, such as maternity leave, where the reduction will be by a pre-set number of outputs; and reductions requiring judgement, generally more complicated circumstances, which will require assessment as to the reduction in number of outputs. The reduction in number of submissions for maternity leave since the last REF, from 1 output to 0.5 outputs, is due to the reduction in average number of outputs per staff member (from 4 to 2.5 outputs) and the longer assessment period of this REF (7 years, as opposed to 5 years for REF 2014).
A query was raised about the use of the word ‘eligible’ in section 180 of the draft guidelines. Attendees were concerned that this would permit universities to exclude staff with 2* research outputs. The sub-panel noted that universities would have to provide reasoning for any staff who were excluded, and that this would not be considered a valid reason. They also noted that the guidelines ought to encourage institutions to support all staff to produce excellent research, and that REF encourages this, although this may not be the effect in reality. Continue reading →
The WCC UK condemns all acts, including speech, which demonstrate Islamophobia, racism, misogyny and similar discrimination. We find abhorrent attempts made by public figures and extremist groups to associate these with our discipline. Classicists have a responsibility to reckon with our field’s history and to acknowledge the ways in which it has been and continues to be used as a tool to create, perpetuate, and justify discrimination of various kinds. Racism and elitism must not be part of our vision for the discipline’s future.
We support Classics for All as they review their association with Boris Johnson, who is currently one of the charity’s patrons. This is not the first time that objections have been made to Johnson’s status as flag-bearer for the discipline and many classicists have not seen him as a public ally. Despite his best attempts to position himself as a positive asset to the field, as a discipline we must now recognise his conduct is appalling, and that association with him is in direct conflict with attempts to recover classics from an exclusionary and discriminatory elite.
We call on all bodies associated with classics to take this opportunity to consider those we ask to act as patrons and ambassadors for our subject. While Johnson may be an extreme case, the public statements and behaviour of others who align themselves with classics are increasingly at odds with our discipline as we understand and promote it. Equally, a board of patrons or supporters consisting primarily of white privileged individuals does not encourage those who do not see themselves represented to think that classics is for them.
The WCC UK has a long-standing goal to advance equality and diversity in Classics, and we acknowledge that there is a long way to go, including in our own ranks. We urge all relevant bodies to diversify and expand the range of those who advocate for them, and to show that there is a strong inclusive voice for classics at work in the UK.
The WCC UK supports a classics without white fragility, in which people of all backgrounds and circumstances flourish and thrive. We invite all those able to take action towards this goal to join us in making this happen.