by Al Duncan

2019 got off to a tumultuous start when two occurrences at the Society for Classical Studies annual meeting in San Diego attracted wide media attention and cast a fresh spotlight on longstanding questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the academic discipline of Classics.  In response to these troubling incidents, the Classics Department at UNC Chapel Hill made a public response addressing the issue of racism in the field. Like our fellow scholars of the ancient Mediterranean across the world, we have looked afresh at our own practices and prejudices.

With no shortage of national and international perspectives on the past and future trajectory of Classics, it seemed useful and timely to seek local and interdisciplinary perspectives on the issue of Classics and diversity, broadly defined.  Drawing on the perspective and expertise of UNC Chapel Hill faculty who have been involved in facing and tackling pertinent issues in their fields, the Classics Department hosted a public roundtable in March to discuss the topic of “Classics and Diversity.”

Distinguished panelists included Jennifer Ho (English and Comparative Literature, Institute for Arts and Humanities), Pamela Lothspeich (Asian Studies), Hugo Méndez (Religious Studies), Ron Williams II (African, African American and Diaspora Studies), and Claudia Yaghoobi (Asian Studies), with Al Duncan moderating.

The hour-long discussion covered a wide range of topics, from pedagogy to publication, accessibility to accountability, highlighting in particular ways in which “Classics” were variously defined and across the academy. While pointing out common gate-keeping practices and structural challenges, the conversation also considered ways new bridges might be built, and new coalitions formed, in order to address emergent and pressing issues at UNC and beyond.

The event was well attended from members across our departmental community, from undergraduate students to emeriti, who contributed crucial perspectives and questions.  Discussion after the event continued for well over an hour, illustrating the need for continuing discussion into the future.