The CAMWS Graduate Student Issues Committee fully supports, both in writing and in the streets, the protests against the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other people of color and against the rampant violence against Black people perpetrated by police in the United States and elsewhere. In response to the tepid statement from CAMWS leadership, we wanted to say without reservation the Black lives matter, Black scholars matter, Black communities matter, and we — as a field and specifically in this committee — need to do more to support this. We fully support The Sportula’s statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the Classics and Social Justice and Women’s Classical Caucus joint letter of support and solidarity for Black Classicists.
Our words are meaningless unless we back them up with actions. In the face of devastating loss and chaos, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to take action. It’s important to remember that how we take action to combat racism and police brutality will look different for each of us: some will be in the streets protesting, some will call local and state government officials, some will donate to community bail funds, some will read up on anti-racist literature. The important thing to start with is just to do something, and especially if you are white to remember to prioritize listening and learning.
One of the easiest ways to help is to sign petitions: it’s low-effort, but it can make a big difference. For example, you can start with this petition to have the Louisville officers who murdered Breonna Taylor fired, arrested, and charged. Then you can check to see if there’s already a petition to your university to divest itself from local and state police, like the University of Minnesota did with the Minneapolis PD last month.
If you are white and new to this fight, we suggest reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo as an introduction to understanding your white privilege and dealing with your internalized racism (and inevitable feelings of shame and white guilt) productively. Then consider tackling one of the texts on this anti-racist reading list compiled by Layla F. Saad, author of the book/workbook Me and White Supremacy. Talk to your friends and family about what you’re reading and learning, take time to examine your biases, and research ways you can help instead of asking your Black acquaintances to do that work for you.
Specifically, for grad students in Classics, many BIPOC students have already done the work for us to demonstrate some of the inherent problems in our field, steeped as it is in white supremacy, nationalism, and imperialism. Vanessa Stovall’s piece on dealing with white supremacy in her research and life and call to defund the police, and Ashley Lance and Kiran Pizarro Mansukhani’s piece on the heritage of American imperialism within the Classics curriculum are good places to start as we seek to better educate ourselves on aspects of classics that our various privileges have kept us blind to. And to help us center Black scholars and scholars of color in our own research (and any syllabi we have any say over), other students have helped compile resources for Black-centered Ancient Mediterranean Studies.
And if you are able, get out in the streets and protest! The only way change will happen is if we make sure we can’t be ignored, and nightly protests are pretty hard to ignore. Wear a mask and maintain as much social distance as possible, but know that it will not always be possible. If you are white, remember that your white body affords you protections against militarized police that others do not have. If it looks like police are going to turn violent, use that privilege: get between the police and the people they are most willing to harm.
GSIC will aim to prioritize the voices of Black scholars and scholars of color as much as we are able. Each year we are responsible for organizing a workshop and panel geared toward CAMWS graduate student members. We have tried in the past to work toward diversity in our programming, but this has never been enough to fight against the barriers to inclusion that many scholars of color face, particularly in the field of classics. We intend to use our platform, as limited as it may be, to highlight the excellent work of BIPOC scholars and to dive deeper into issues of confronting racism in our field and our practices.
Though our funds are limited, we have also committed to a monthly GSIC donation to The Sportula to help counteract the financial barriers to the study of classics. We will also reach out to other CAMWS committees and groups to see if we can help enact similar changes in programming and support. Classics needs to do better. CAMWS needs to do better. GSIC needs to do better. And we’re ready to put in the work.
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