By Jenny Messenger, Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Barbara Goff and Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis
In July 2021, two of our ACE partner universities co-hosted the Inclusive Classics Initiative. Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading) and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (University of St Andrews) held the second online, international Inclusive Classics workshop. Bringing together multiple perspectives within the discipline, the workshop provided space for discussion about marginalised groups, both during antiquity and in the subject today.
‘Embedding Inclusive Practices’, the first panel, chaired by (another ACE partner) University of Nottingham doctoral candidate Ashley Chhibber, started with Professor Jennifer Ingleheart (ACE partner, University of Durham) speaking from a Head of Department’s perspective about creating a welcoming space for students. Jennifer mentioned using expressions of identity (such as displaying the rainbow flag), the success of a staff race reading group, and the problems faced by departments trying to develop EDI initiatives on small budgets. Dr Naoko Yamagata discussed the (ACE partner) Open University’s success of attracting a relatively large proportion of students with a declared disability, along with the challenge of having very low levels of ethnic diversity among the student population, and strategies to make the curriculum more inclusive, from checklists that challenge assumptions to changing familiar terms. Dr Marchella Ward (University of Oxford) discussed the need to take critiques from marginalised students seriously, and to carry out EDI work before publicising it.
Panel Two featured updates on projects from last year’s workshop. Dr Fiona Hobden and Serafina Nicolosi shared the results of a student survey carried out at the University of Liverpool, which suggested that while the teaching and learning environment was inclusive, improvements could be made to further diversify the curriculum, such as featuring more women outside the domestic sphere. Speaking on the MAPPOLA project, Professor Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna) showed how two stories from the margins of the Roman empire could destabilise received narratives, and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson (King’s College London and University of Oxford) illustrated the sheer range of diversely-positioned stakeholders in the UK Classics community, some of the success stories of knowledge exchange projects among these groups, and, crucially, future strategic actions required to improve collaboration.
Day Two began with ‘Decentring the Canon’, with talks from teachers in schools and colleges, and an update on the Christian Cole Society for Classicists of Colour. Anna McOmish (Aldridge School, Walsall) discussed the value of introducing an Ancient Middle East module into the Key Stage 3 History curriculum, while Peter Wright (Blackpool Sixth Form College) spoke about the Blackpool Classics for All hub and the benefits of using Classics to boost vocabulary, literacy, and oracy. Ray Cheung, an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, talked about the need to build a community of classicists of colour, and to change institutional mindsets. Vijaya-Sharita Baba (Petroc College, Devon) discussed a personal journey from thinking of Classics as an inherently diverse subject to becoming aware of how certain curricula can be exclusive, and called for more resources for students with no linguistic background. Sanjay Sharma (Heinz-Brandt-Schule, Berlin) stressed the importance of re-framing and contextualising Classics in modern geographies, and of encouraging students to engage with a wide variety of artistic representations of antiquity.
Our final panel was a conversation among Professor Kunbi Olasope, Dr Idowu Alade, and Dr Monica Aneni (University of Ibadan, Nigeria), whose discussion about lecturers and students in partnership showed how Classics admissions in the University had increased over the last ten years. Collaboration in various ways, including teaching, publication, and active mentoring, had led to a sense of student belonging. Classics could still lead to all kinds of careers, ensuring good support from alumni, and a comparative focus on classical reception showed how Classics remained highly relevant.
There was also an opportunity for networking in smaller, themed groups, for PhD and early career researchers, teachers in schools and colleges, mid-career and professorial colleagues, and colleagues interested in planning future events. Various challenges and strategies emerged; please see the longer blog post at X.
From the point of view of the organisers, the workshop was hugely inspiring and provided lots of ideas for action and further thought. Social media users followed updates on Twitter from the @inclusiclassics account and used #InclusiveClassicsII. The programme and presentation materials are available on the Institute of Classical Studies website. Barbara and Alexia would like to thank all speakers and attendees for their enthusiasm and collegiality, Dr Jenny Messenger for her fantastic administrative support, and ACE co-director Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson for emergency co-chairing.
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