OT: Are you ducking kidding me?!

Warning:  Irate academic rant forthcoming…

I thought I had positioned myself for this to be a good Monday – maybe really good.  Last week was all but brutal…I hit the ground running after returning from Greece and felt like I was swimming in deep water most of the week.  By Friday afternoon though, things were starting to get better.  I had word from Kos that the boxes of dental hygiene kits and school supplies I’d sent a week ago had arrived safely – good news indeed since for the extremely low shipping costs, I had thought they were travelling via donkey cart.  By Sunday afternoon, having spent several hours grading and formatting, I had the most intensive of my three active courses up to date and ready to fly.  I was in good shape for the new work week.  Was.

That all came to an end and my current state of tipping between irritation and disgust started, when I woke up around 1am (I do that often enough) and looking at my phone for the time, noticed an Outlook notification.


I know I should have ignored it and gone back to bed, but sometimes I can’t sleep and I can get some correspondence sorted in the interim.  I’d also sent some emails to associates in Europe, so I thought I might get in front of that.

No. Such. Luck.

Instead, it was this (name redacted to protect the sender…I’m good about that even when the sender is being a complete and utter TOOL)


Source of "Homosexual artwork"  discomfort...

Source of “Homosexual artwork” discomfort…

Given the reaction of this student – a fully grown adult student in an upper level college course on Greek History – you might wonder what kind of depraved licentiousness I assigned (in addition to the piece above) that provoked it.  Rest assured, I did not spend extra time delving through the catalog of Ancient Greece’s Most Shocking and Immoral works…the assigned piece was a YouTube video of a college production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.

While I will grant you that this play is certainly risque leaning heavily toward bawdy, it is also not out of place in a class week which was centered on the topic of the Peloponnesian War.  Part of what this class is doing is analyzing primary source material in an effort to better understand the history and culture of ancient Greece.  This play is a great primary source.  It was first produced 411 BCE, just two years after Athens’ cataclysmic defeat in the Sicilian Expedition, and is generally regarded as a clear commentary on the war.

The action revolves around the title character, an Athenian woman named Lysistrata (which means ‘Army Disbander’) who comes up with an ingenious plan.  She rallies all of the women of Greece – Athenian, Spartan and all points in between – to go on a sex strike until their husbands agree to end the war.  Not surprisingly, the play is full of a whole panoply of of sexual innuendo and outright dick jokes – complete with male character costumes sporting outsized erect phalluses in ancient staging.  It is also a hilariously funny commentary on gender relations in ancient Greece…undoubtedly made more funny in the original by the fact that every single female character would have been played by a male actor in drag.

This play is pretty standard fare in classical studies courses at all kinds of universities regardless of their religious affiliation, and a quick search reveals that numerous Catholic universities have run productions of the very same play over the years…it is hardly uncharted territory.  I have never, in 15 years of teaching at my current university (a Catholic institution), been asked to avoid addressing any aspect of classical culture for fear of offending a student.  In fact, part of the liberal arts mission is to challenge students to open their minds and experience other cultures without prejudice.  Epic fail in this case.

In the end, I provided this student an alternative assignment…a big, heavy passage from the historian Thucydides (Servetus may be the only person I know who doesn’t groan at the prospect), but I must confess that I am startled and dismayed that in 2016 a student, enrolled at a liberal arts institution, is comfortable relaying such a clear level of narrow mindedness and outright homophobia to me, her professor.    It bothers me as an educator, but it bothers me a lot more as a human and especially as a parent of a child whos sexual identity would apparently cause this person to be uncomfortable.  I am a professional, so I didn’t suggest that perhap a different class would suit better because I find this attitude offensive.  I’ve already come up with an alternate to this week’s film, Alexander (2004) in case it too is deemed “inappropriate” with its homoerotic undertones and all.

Alexander (Farrell) and Hephaestion (Jared Leto)

Alexander (Farrell) and Hephaestion (Jared Leto)

Hopefully I’ve purged at least a little of this annoyance so that I can get through the final two weeks of this class without completely losing my s@#t at someone!  (I’m making a case that we should earn hazard pay for teaching upper level liberal arts classes online!)

45 comments on “OT: Are you ducking kidding me?!

  1. Servetus says:


  2. Servetus says:

    But in all the years I taught The Peloponnesian Wars, I never met a student who did. Not even the military history buffs. I got them to respect him, but not love him. And he’s certainly not funny. I have never taught Lysistrata but I would guess it would be a lot easier to teach.

  3. Guylty says:

    It’s hard to know what to do: Laugh about stuff like that – or actually despair over mankind. Well, I suppose, this doesn’t happen all that often. The narrow-mindedness of the student is quite shocking though, and one wonders why someone like that chose a course on Greek civilisation at all? Possibly because they had no idea what the old Greeks got up to?

  4. wydville says:

    At the risk of appearing ignorant, can I ask, why on earth has she enrolled herself on this course? Did she have no idea of what was coming??

    • obscura says:

      Well, yes and no. It is a topics class, so it is titled, “Topics in Ancient History” which is fairly generic. However, the course syllabus was available 2 weeks prior to the start of class, so she could have done some background. In reality, because there are very few upper level online options, students jump in and ask questions later. Blerg.

  5. Leigh Alexander says:

    “Blerg” is right. When you take an upper-division class, you expect to read original sources (or in translation). The ancients did not do Disney versions for people not mature enough to deal with the real material. Do people really expect that the stuff will be watered down just because they’re not doing a Classics major? Grrr!

  6. Perry says:

    I love Thucydides, too, as long as it’s translated, of course. I think this is another example of a topic I’ve been consumed with – this safe-place coddling that’s happening on college campuses around the country, including the over-reaction and failure of due process concerning sexual harassment complaints. ( yes – I’m on the other side again). I read where a law professor was asked by his students not to teach rape law because it’s a trigger. So, how do you prosecute a rapist if you don’t know the law?

    • obscura says:

      I’ll tell you, I waffle on this issue. On the one hand, I don’t ever intend to be a source of pain to anyone, and some people have legitimate trauma.

      On the other hand, I cannot (and will not) G-rate the truth of the past for adults. That is a disservice to everyone.

      I think at least part of this issue is related to a kind of general trend leaning away from people taking responsibility for themselves, their feelings and their actions…it’s far easier to blame someone else than it is to own that the source of the issue may lie within oneself.

      • Perry says:

        I agree. I don’t how these young people are supposed to be prepared for a life that is not always a safe place for them.

        • obscura says:

          I wouldn’t say it is something exclusive to the young either. I’m constantly amazed by people my age and older who refuse to take ownership of themselves.

          I do take your point though. It’s been a mission of parenthood to no completely shield, but to provide my kids tools to deal with life’s realities.

          • Leigh Alexander says:

            I agree. With my daughter, I was honest, but used simple language until she was older. She needed and used the tools I gave her, so that now she is an experienced childcare provider, at the top of her profession. I hear my own words coming back to me 😀

    • Servetus says:

      I haven’t read Thucydides in the original, either. I”m saving that for retirement, maybe? 🙂

      I personally think the amount of “coddling” going on has been vastly overstated. I think if it’s happening, it’s mostly happening on very elite campuses with a more privileged population In my experience, if/when I got asked questions like the one Obscura’s student put, it was never a traditional student who asked it; younger people are usually going through values clarification and aware of it, and also often feel they lack the authority to question a professor’s choices. The other thing is the privilege question; most of the students whom I’ve taught in public university settings don’t have time to object about what’s in their homework; they are worried they won’t have time to finish it (or in fact, don’t finish it). It’s a much more common response, if a student finds a reading objectionable in some way, for them just not to do it and not to say anything about it and try to Google their way around the problem.

      In my experience, too, the vast majority of professors who employ some kind of content warning do so essentially in the way that the movies do. I was one such, and I said (usually before some particularly gruesome source relating to twentieth century atrocities), “your homework [or: the movie we’re watching] includes explicit violence and/or pictures or first-person accounts of historical atrocities.” I’ve never met a professor who’d use a trigger warning as a reason to let students off of doing something.

      As far as the “safe place” movement goes, again in my experience, it’s mostly a place where students in minorities end up, as a way to protect themselves from having to represent, tirelessly and constantly, their actual reality to other students. Their reality is already in many cases not a safe place. (It’s not the same — but I remember the burden of it becoming known in Germany that one was a Jew. Suddenly you’d be bombarded with everyone’s curiosity, prurience, demands, prejudices, political opinions. On Holocaust Remembrance Day the community would have to dispatch 40 official representatives to the 40 area cemeteries where communities had ceremonies for synagogues that had been annihilated in the 1930s and 40s. It was a little like being a giraffe in the middle of a cornfield and having all the farmers coming out to stare, ask questions, and poke. So while I haven’t had the same experiences, I can understand the need for that kind of “safe” location).

      At the same time, I tend to agree that people need to take responsibility for their own feelings. However, I think there’s a hierarchy there, too. Some people are forced to deal with these things much more often than others. To be clear, I don’t think Obscura’s student is a case of this. But not everyone who asks for an alternative is asking to be unfairly “coddled.”

      • Perry says:

        Fair enough. I’ve been responding to series of articles I’ve found ( one of which did deal with anti semitism on campus), and you are correct, that these were schools the privileged attended.I will search but the links, but somehow, I think you’ve come across these articles. On another note – coddling, someone close to me runs a well known PR firm, and she tells a story about the mother of one of her staff, who called her the CEO, and said ” you’re giving my daughter too much work and she’s very anxious.”

        • Servetus says:

          I suppose helicopter parents are an overlapping problem with some of the stuff that happens on campus w/r/t free speech.

          Part of the issue with liberal arts colleges in particular is that they on the whole sell themselves as a sort of safe place — our campus is small, everybody knows everybody else, you can handcraft your education here to get what you want, we’ll make sure we carefully superintend your child’s growth: these are all things that appeal to parents who worry about what their child will do / how they will cope on that public campus with 35,000 undergraduates. So there is some kind of self-selection that goes on with certain settings. (And, I would argue, there is a high potential for religious campuses to compound this b/c they often sell themselves as providing a particular sort of spiritual education, whether it’s true or not.) The wealthier the families of the students, the more problems I had with helicopter parents. But on the campus I taught in in Florida, 45% of students were receiving Pell Grants (which typically means that they or their parents did not own homes). I rarely got parent interference in that setting. The issue was sort of the opposite — that students themselves didn’t ever bother to question the system or ask for more.

          These are huge generalizations, naturally. And a lot of times what you read in the press doesn’t really cover what’s going on, e.g., U of C published this huge statement about how they were not a safe space (or however they put it); that didn’t really stem from classrooms but from student groups trying to shut up invited speakers. To some extent I think those are two different things, i.e., in a classroom you are asking to engage with the expertise of the professor as scholar and teacher and it makes sense to say, no, you don’t get to pick and choose what you consume. You’re signing up for what the scholar has to offer. In contrast it seems normal that student groups should be able to protest the presence of speakers whose presence their fees often subsidize. I’m against the whole “let’s frighten the speaker off the campus” but at the same time the goal of political protest is change. Why would students politically protest certain speakers at all if they didn’t have the hope of preventing them from speaking?

          • Perry says:

            I read about U of C. He got a lot of flack from his alums.

          • Servetus says:

            To some extent, rightly so, although the U of C is a strange place politically and they have a chip on their shoulder about what amazing free thinkers they are. And that particular administrator was new on campus so there was a certain amount of resentment about that, too.

            I am often undecided about these matters and I think they have to be examined in their local contexts. To some extent college is a moment (for traditional students at least) where they should try on all kinds of crazy ideas and be horrified by some of them and maybe go overboard with a few of them. But I do think a lot of the instances I hear about involve situations where everyone involved is ambivalent about the fundamental issue that speech has consequences.

        • Perry says:

          And BTW, the CEO wanted to know whether she risked some sort of complaint or suit if she fired the young woman. It was actually a tricky question to answer.

          • Servetus says:

            I’m guessing yes, it’s a risk, if she can’t cite a concrete reason related to the employee’s work performance. Although we all know people who have been fired because of the problematic behavior of family members.

            I do think parents are increasingly unaware of particular lines that existed in the past. But I don’t know that’s entirely their fault. The social pressures to parent in a particular way are growing by the minute. I just read a book about parenting teenage girls (I thought it would be useful for understanding the nieces) and the author kept stressing that mothers needed to stay out of their children’s friendships, and I thought, what? That’s a thing you have to tell people? But if you have a parent who’s always interfered in friendships, and at school, and at university (and even if this is a FERPA violation, you’d be surprised how insistent a parent can be), then why should they stop in the workplace? It probably doesn’t seem inappropriate to the parent even if it absolutely is.

          • Perry says:

            You don’t need a concrete reason to fire someone in the absence of a contract of employment as long as it’s not for a discriminatory reason. And, I thought any case would be a loser in the end – but, once the mother alerted the boss that her daughter was suffering from anxiety, at least a prima facie case of disability discrimination could have been fashioned, sufficient for a complaint. In essence, the mother was asking for a reasonable accommodation for a possibly PWA. It’s a big stretch – and I could have won the case if it came to that ( had I practiced in California)- also, I think the e’ee’s work was probably not so good, and that’s why she was worried – but, it could have been a headache. Also, AFAIK, the daughter did not know of the call until she was told by the CEO. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at that family dinner table that night. Compare to Kenneth and Sandra.

          • Servetus says:

            Interesting. In a university setting she would have to present documentation to have any disability accommodation made.

            Yeah, if I had been that kid I would have had it out with my mother. Modern parenting!

          • Perry says:

            Yes, here, too – she would have to provide the documentation ultimately, and when she actually asked for the reasonable accommodation -if it was requested, but even prior to that, the e’er is on some notice once the issue is raised. So, as I said, it would be a loser, but also cost money to defend. Too bad we couldn’t fire the mother.

          • Servetus says:

            A lot of campuses have these classes now during first year orientation — it’s like three hours, parents only, on “how to separate” and “when not to intervene.”

          • Perry says:

            No kidding? I’m shocked.

          • Servetus says:

            It started about ten years ago or so.

          • Perry says:

            Well, I have a friend whose son went through 4 years of expensive university – a tough kid to raise, and at the very end, he didn’t want to complete one project – a media project, which is what he wanted to do after school. She called the appropriate Dean with a story to get him an extension – which she achieved – but he never completed the project and he never got his degree. After all that money. But, maybe he knew better, because he’s a success in the industry he wanted and managed to carve out a unique niche for himself. Go figure.

          • Servetus says:

            I think that’s one of the frustrating things about this process. A degree is a good predictor of later success of some kind, but it is not the only predictor nor is it a necessary predictor nor is it a guaranteed predictor. It’s something that frustrates a lot of educators. Students and their parents believe they are buying a ticket to a certain kind of life/income/lifestyle, and administrators are often all too eager to agree and try to sell them that.

  7. Hariclea says:

    Like wtf????!!!!!! It’s even advertised as having strong language so the prude viewer should use their right to a remote/mouse

    • obscura says:

      I’m starting to feel like I need to put a disclaimer on any course I teach that touches on the ancient world…oh right – that would be all of them. 😐

  8. Hariclea says:

    Omg It’s incredibly sad that we end up being so much more retrograde than humanity 3000 years ago😣 And if at uni people are not open to debate and new things what can we expect from the rest of the world? So sorry you encountered such closed minds 😔

    • obscura says:

      They are relatively few and far between, but this one really took me by surprise because this student had been uncommonly thoughtful and intuitive to date. Then this. Bummer.

  9. jholland says:

    This is so “out there” it seems like a practical joke. But not a funny one.

    • obscura says:

      By this stage, I should be moreorless immune to these things, but they get to me every single time – to the extent that I begin to wonder if it’s all just an exercise in futility. 😦

  10. Esther says:

    I thought part of studying was to broaden your horizons? You don’t have to like what you read/see or agree with it, but it’s good to know about it and study and discuss it! And if it’s part of the curriculum and you hate it, tough luck. Suck it up, learn, and move on. You were kind to let her off the hook…
    I have heard of neither text, by the way, but that play sounds like a blast to me. Could we have Richard do it one day? In drag? Eeek! Already excited at just the thought of that!

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