The graduate students from the Classics departments at Duke and UNC regularly join forces to host a colloquium each spring. This April marked our 27th annual event and, instead of a traditional graduate student conference, we invited faculty for a pedagogically oriented event: “Controversiae Docendae: Teaching Sensitive Topics from the Classical World.” We had three fantastic guest speakers: Dr. Robert Garland (Colgate University), Dr. Hunter Gardner (University of South Carolina), and our own Dr. Sharon James.
The day was organized into a series of lectures and workshops, all of which produced productive conversation on a wide range of “controversial” topics: sexual and non-sexual violence, disability, misogyny, racism, and religion. Guided by the various experiences of our speakers and graduate students alike, we discussed not only ways of approaching difficult topics in the literary and visual material that we teach, but also actual student responses. We talked about where problems are likely to emerge and ways in which we can help guide sophisticated conversations in the classroom.
Another aspect of our event involved the changing educational environment and its effects, in particular, on teaching Classics. The rise in the use of trigger warnings, for example, was an important topic of conversation throughout the day, and we discussed ways in which we can be conscientious instructors, upfront about course material without limiting its content. Everyone in attendance felt that they came away from the event with a greater understanding of student experiences and ways to create an inclusive classroom environment.
This event would not have been possible without the support of the faculty and staff from both departments and funding from UNC-CH Student Congress, UNC-CH GPSF, and the Classical Studies department at Duke University.