My Statement on the ‘Future of Classics’ Panel and the Aftermath

This morning, the SCS released a statement over confusion about whether I have been formally censured by the society. I have not been formally censured by the SCS but would like to discuss what did happen:

At 5:36 pm on February 26, I received an email from the Vice President for Outreach at SCS, who is my divisional head. He requested a meeting over the phone rather than over email. I texted him and we arranged a time to speak, which we did for a total of about 31 minutes at 6:30 pm. In our conversation, he made clear that he was speaking in an official capacity on behalf of the Professional Ethics Committee, so that I did not think he was attacking me personally.

He noted there had been complaints and concerns over my behavior at the ‘Future of Classics’ panel. He did not specify where these complaints came from or who had submitted them, but he did note there were complaints. It was clear to me that I was being censured by the Committee on Professional Ethics. I asked why I was being censured, and whether I was being removed from the SCS Communication Committee altogether. He said no, I was not being removed, but that the committee had wished to relay two specific points about my behavior:

(1) It was unprofessional and unbecoming of a scholar to interrupt and stymie Mary Frances Williams’ questions during the Q&A held after the panel papers.

(2) I should have reflected on my role as a representative of the SCS while speaking on the panel.

At that point, I gave my defense, something the Professional Ethics Committee has never asked for. I noted that I was trying to interrupt Dr. Williams in order to head off what I felt was a dangerous and racist direction—particularly after she noted her defense of Western Civilization. I had spent the morning addressing our response to the racist comments directed at the Sportula group and thus was already quite aware of the racial tension and need to speak out against their treatment. With distance and retrospect, I am confident that I would do the exact same thing. Moreover, the two points relayed to me do not make sense. The first one gives the impression that scholars do not interrupt each other or argue forcefully during Q&A sessions. Is the SCS going to reprimand everyone who interrupt or forcefully argues? The second is just censorious language without any substance.

Make no mistake that the phone call I received was not couched as a “conversation” and the request to keep it confidential reveals quite a bit about the lack of transparency in our society. Attempting to censor, censure, or rebuke academic language that is in no way hate speech does not uphold the core ideas of academic freedom upon which our field is predicated on. I may be the chair of a committee for the SCS, but I am also a scholar with my own ideas.

My university does not rebuke me for my speaking out against racism and I don’t expect my academic society to. I was never informed that by chairing a committee, I represent the SCS in every space of my life. I am a person who was invited as a scholar, a blogger, and a public historian to sit on a panel that got heated—as many do. Beyond her use of the dog whistle of Western Civilization, I tried to convey that I am a historian and not a classicist in the traditional sense. My PhD is in History, and I am not a philologist. I do not believe translating canonical Classics texts in Latin and Greek alone will keep our field alive. I taught surveys of Western Civilization courses for many years in History Departments from the University of North Carolina to Marquette University. The SCS Board of Directors’ statement in 2016 noted the dangerous construct of Western Civilization itself: “As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.” I simply reaffirmed that stance to Mary Frances Williams.

Let us now turn to the response. After I let my Facebook friends know about the censure, many were upset, and a slow walking back of events began to occur. Having the VP for Outreach (not the SCS President) write to the whole Communications Committee on February 27 and say that what occurred last night was not a formal censure but rather a “confidential conversation” conjures the question(s): Then what was this? Why did he call in an official capacity on behalf of the Professional Ethics board? Why did he explicate the charges against me when I asked why I was being censured if this was a conversation? An official reprimand can also be a ‘confidential conversation’ (if both parties agree to that confidentiality) – in other words, the later recasting of the phone call does nothing to make it any less of an official reprimand. Why all this secrecy? Who was at this meeting and where are the official minutes for it? Why have I not been contacted by the Chair of the Committee on Professional Ethics or the President of the SCS directly?

As a public message on the issue, the SCS chose to post this response online: “The Society for Classical Studies would like to clarify that the Society’s Committee on Professional Ethics has not censured Prof. Sarah Bond. More details will be forthcoming later.” In short, I feel gaslighted. The focus of the events at the ‘Future of Classics’ panel is and always should be the suggestions by the speakers for making the discipline more inclusive. The comments directed at Dan-el Padilla Peralta show how urgent an agenda this is. Moreover, it is his pain and the racism in her comments to him that should be the focus. But instead, it has become a narrative about two white ladies debating about Western Civilization’s existence. Make no mistake that I believe it no coincidence that I received this phone call 7 weeks after the panel, on the very night a Quillette article was published by Mary Frances Williams (the first version rather than the edited and reposted second one).

The handling of this event is unacceptable on numerous levels. I amicably resigned from Forbes at the beginning of last year in hopes of changing the SCS from the inside. I have worked 10-12 hours per week for over a year in order to make our social media a success, but also with the explicit purpose of lifting up the voices and writing of people of color and women within our society. I look forward to continuing that mission with the aid of the entire Communication Committee, but am disheartened by these events.

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