Friday, December 1, 2017

E(i)ditorial — Philomela’s Tapestry

E(i)ditorial — Philomela’s Tapestry
The library of ideas, thoughts, and arguments written about the ancient Mediterranean is so large that any individual can fathom only a tiny fraction of it. But in its shadow is a second library — at once infinite and infinitesimal— of essays, articles, and books that will never be written because the people who would have written them were pushed out of the field by harassment and abuse...
Please read all of this:
We’re starting a new project here at Eidolon that we’re calling ‘Philomela’s Tapestry’ to assess and fight a problem in the Classics discipline in the treatment of junior faculty and graduate students by more senior scholars. The problem is sexual harassment, but also non-sexual abusive behavior that is often conspicuously gendered, and also sex that is non-harassing. (Consider: when a senior scholar and a graduate student in a department enter into a sexual relationship, even an entirely consensual one, that relationship will have ripple effects. It will affect the other graduate students and faculty. It will inevitably lead to inappropriate situations in the future — what if one of them is asked to referee the other’s work? — and those situations will be whispered about, but nobody will ever speak openly about how they ought to be handled.)
The problem is that we pretend that our colleagues will always be supportive advocates (or, failing that, benevolently negligent presences) to their students, and we treat instances of inappropriate behavior as anomalies that should be whispered about and smoothed over.
The problem is our field’s culture. If you are part of the field, you are almost certainly part of that culture. You have been an enabler, or a whisperer. You have looked the other way, or you have seen but done nothing. You have received the professional support of someone you knew had behaved inappropriately toward others and put your discomfort with that support aside. And you probably had an excellent reason to do so, because the culture would have punished you for doing otherwise. You would have been labeled a troublemaker, a buzzkill. People would have avoided working with you. Life in your own department would have become strained.
The only way to fight that culture is to collectively agree that we will listen, and honestly confront our own behavior, and try to do better.
The Eidolon team has been inspired, in part, by the #MeToo movement, and the powerful outpouring of survivor stories occasioned by the downfall of several powerful, high-profile men. But our goal is not to point fingers or bring down any individuals, because doing so will never really get to the heart of such a pervasive problem. (Those interested in pursuing more investigative avenues may want to contact the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is increasing its sexual harassment reporting.) What we want, instead, is to pick apart and better understand the systemic issues that have made all of us complicit.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be publishing a series of articles about these problems. Some of these will share stories of abuse; others will be analytical approaches to the problem, or suggestions for how to do better. Our main goal is to take the conversation out of the realm of whispers and coded language and into a forum where people share and their discuss their ideas and experiences.
As always, you can contact us with stories you’d like to share or article ideas you’d like to pitch at However, we understand that sharing stories about your experiences comes at a risk. So we’re introducing a new email address. If you contact us at, only one member of our team — myself or Sarah Scullin — will read your message. We won’t disclose its contents to anybody. If you want to hide your identity, you can even email that account from an aliased or anonymous email address — although we will eventually have to verify who you are if you’re willing to have your story become part of an article.
That lost library can never be recovered, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do more to protect young scholars from abuse and help them realize their potential. We can start an honest and open conversation about the sexual politics of our discipline. We can work to understand the insidiousness and ubiquity of the culture that silences victims. And, hopefully, we can move forward.

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