“Do the thing that feeds your soul.” These are the words that sealed the deal on my matriculation to Emory University. The Essence of Emory program allowed black and latino accepted students to experience Emory before committing. This is where I met Professor Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor, Chair of African American Studies, MMUF Coordinator, Author of multiple award winning books, and so much more. She advised my current roommate and I in so many aspects of life in the small amount of time we spent with her. We both mounted our decision to choose Emory over schools like Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern on words of wisdom from Professor Carol Anderson.
Carol Anderson came back into my life when I received an email from her regarding a nomination for the MMUF or Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. I was ecstatic, because that meant there was a possibility that I could receive funding for research in the humanities. The meeting was from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM Thursday evening, so I rushed from my National Politics class that ended at 6:45 to Candler Library 207. When I walked in, Professor Anderson’s face lit up! I could not believe she had remembered me. She continued her presentation on MMUF and eventually opened the floor up for discussion and questions. When the initial rush of questions died down, she looked to me and mentioned to the room that I was an “essence baby” in April and kept saying how glad she was that I chose Emory.
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship is a fellowship program for minority students that aims to reduce the under-representation on the faculties of colleges and universities throughout the country. It acts as a support system for minority students who plan to eventually pursue a Ph.D in core fields in the arts and science and join academia. The MMUF program has 48 American colleges and universities , 39 UNCF member institutions, and 3 South African universities on its roster. The program funds approved undergraduate research and GRE prep. There’s also an integral mentorship program and partnership program. People eligible to apply are rising seniors with a minimum GPA of 3.2, but if you are interested contact one of the three program coordinators as soon as possible.
Prostitutes and Pederasty. The two words kept circling my mind as I tried to fathom the message in my inbox. The thought of the lecture was already making me uncomfortable as I envisioned the eerie and somber ambiance of the room. I then pictured myself standing in front of the class having to reiterate and analyze my newfound knowledge of prostitution and child molestation. I was anything but enthused. After my initial concern gradually faded away I looked deeper into the description of the event. Prostitutes and Pederasty: Men and Morals in Roman Comedy. Prostitutes, pederasty, and comedy. With those three words my anxiety was quickly replaced with curiosity.
Having studied latin since 7th grade, I have grown a passion for the roman culture as the ancient civilization shared many similarities to our own. Whether it was studying the gladiatorial fights or the simple phrase of “veni, vidi, vici”, I admired everything about ancient rome. As I excitedly strolled into room N-116 of the Callaway Center, I was quickly puzzled by the age of the people in attendance. I was given awkward looks as I scurried to a seat and checked to see if I was in the correct place. It turns out I was as I immediately took out my computer for notes and typed “everyone here is very old”. I guess the lecture on prostitution, pederasty, and comedy was the place to be for everyone’s grandma and grandpa. As the limited amount of seats quickly filled up, Dr. Martin Dinter of Kings College stepped up to the front and introduced himself. Coming from London, Dr. Dinter described his studies of roman culture, specifically in epics and theater. After his short introduction to the audience, Dinter took a seat and began his presentation.
As Dinter started to read his notes he addressed the edgy title of the presentation. He instantly relieved my original apprehension as he explained how prostitution and pederasty were representations of the principle of roman culture, not the focus of the lecture. He said that “roman comedy parades concerns about public morality”, a theme that embodied his entire lecture. Dinter went on to give specific examples of this theme from roman playwrights and rhetoricians such as Plautus and Calpurnius Flaccus. Though Dr. Dinter’s format of presentation was lifeless as he simply read his paper word for word with a slideshow, the content was truly amazing. Dinter explained how these comedies mocked family life, politics, sex, and marriage. After hearing this I immediately made the connection to current shows like Modern Family and Seinfeld. While the ancient plays were created to mock and entertain roman culture, Dr. Dinter showed how there were many underlying life lessons. Whether it was a mock on a father son relationship or the selfishness of a man raping a prostitute, each comedy represented the rhetorical exercises of roman playwrights.
As Dinter slowly flipped the last page of his lengthy paper he opened up the audience for questions. Immediately, an older woman in the back raised her hand and asked about the progression of roman morality as a result of these comedies. During the presentation, Dr. Dinter subtly explained how each comedy seemed to end with the happy ending of marriage. The woman questioned this pattern as almost every play exposed the underlying strife and lack of morality in roman culture. She questioned how the audience was supposed to learn from these themes if each story had a happy ending, ultimately making the themes unnoticeable. She wanted to know why the playwrights would focus on the lack of morality of romans if they did not want to encourage social change and revolution. It was easy to tell that Dr. Dinter had never truly researched that perspective as his answer was a simple reiteration of what he said before. This almost felt like a perfect way to end the lecture as it served as a cliffhanger for further research and analysis.
Overall, the content of the lecture was very compelling. Though Dr. Dinter’s actual presentation was quite dull and lifeless, I was able to understand the overarching message of morality and social interaction. Though these plays were created thousands of years ago, it was truly fascinating to see the similarities with modern comedies and how social themes are expressed on entertainment platforms.
After 45 minutes of wandering around campus, asking if anyone knew where some “FPF” lecture would be, I ended up somehow stumbling into the right building. Finally, I was in Bowden hall at around 4:00 PM, but this wasn’t any type of lecture hall I’d ever been to, it was just a series of classrooms. After another 10 minutes, I finally found my way to the right one, Bowden 216.
As I enter and take a seat at one of the outer chairs, I see a few people unloading a few 12 packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon bear beer along with some crackers, raisins, grapes, bread, chips, cheese and some wine. I began to wonder whether I was in the right place or not. However, looking up at the board in the center of the room, I saw in chalk writing “Canon Fodder: Exploring the Challenges of Decolonization and Canon Reform”
As I took my seat, one of the graduate students asked: ” Are you here from Lauren?” to which I said, “No, I’m just an undergraduate student here at Emory University, I’m here for a blog post for Professor Highsmith’s expository class”. At least a few people in the room laughed. At first, I didn’t understand why, but then it clicked Lauren=Professor Highsmith.
Before we begin with the lecture, let me introduce what this post is about. According to their website, the FPF, which stands for Friday Philosophy Forum, “facilitates philosophical research, discussion, and collaboration among Emory graduate students in philosophy and other disciplines.” So essentially, they provide graduate students to share current research and paper drafts for the purpose of provoking dialogue and eliciting feedback that might strengthen works intended for future publication. All this is also a part of a bigger organization called The Graduate Philosophy Society at Emory (GPSE) which is “the body for representation and self-organizing of the graduate students in the department of philosophy.”
I realized soon that this wouldn’t be a lecture, it would actually be just a weak presentation of the very first draft of a paper regarding diversity in philosophy. Andrea, one of the presenters soon pulled up her partner from Canada, Emily, on FaceTime so that they could begin their presentation. “We realize that we are going to say some stupid things here, but please give us as much feedback as you can” were the first words uttered by both partners. Before beginning on the actual reading out loud of their draft, they pointed out that it would only take a maximum of 25 minutes.
What follows is essentially a direct flow of the presentation as it went: Andrea provided the introduction of the paper saying that Philosophy has a serious problem with diversity and that various different proposals had to be put in place to change that fact. Both Emily and Andrea, all throughout the paper would mention about 10-15 times that a major factor of change would be a transformation of the syllabus for philosophy as well as the diversification of the list of philosophers. They said that more indigenous philosophers have to be included in the syllabi all around the world. Emily took over right after saying that people fear change but that Philosophers having different perspectives is what the world needs. She said that white male supremacy had completely dominated Philosophy for years, starting from the belief that white male Greeks were the first Philosophers. After providing no evidence whatsoever to back it up, they said that just was not true and that it was only designed to amplify white supremacy. Emily said philosophy is just one tool they love that could be used for diversification, others included the recognition of indigenous sovereignty over lands, decolonizing mines, nations, and schools. That’s where I got lost, I no longer knew what the paper was about, was it about decolonization? Diversification of Philosophers? White male supremacy?. They both then began to talk about how it was wrong of white people to go down to local tribes in Hawaii trying to help them out because the only thing that did was force them to assimilate to white culture.
After providing little to no evidence to any of their claims, and throwing around quite a few authors, philosophers and hard philosophical terms with little to no context, they were finally done. It was now time for questions.
I realized that I wasn’t the only one confused by their paper when I only saw 5 hands fly up for questions with over 17 members of the forum. When asked about the some of the topics within their paper such as decolonization and the diversification of the syllabus as well as the evidence surrounding their claims, their answers were very subpar. They were either unable to answer some questions or were only able to answer them partially. Leaving me as well as the forum very underwhelmed.
Essentially, after an hour and thirty minutes of utter and pure confusion on my part, it was finally over, I got up and left as soon as I could. Since I’d recorded the whole presentation I gave it another listen in my room hoping to get something more out of it. Nothing.
Besides touching base on so many things with little to no evidence to support their claims, the overall first draft was pretty much torn apart by the members of the forum, the facetime called ended by Emily saying again that they knew many stupid things would be said but that was the point, to receive feedback and do it better the next time. Apart from being a completely un-engaging and very uncomfortable experience for me, both Andrea and Emily left with just what they needed, some awesome feedback to make their paper better and actually presentable. Oh, and I got to see some pretty sweet beards on 2 members of the forum and that’s always a plus.
Graduate Philosophy Society at Emory, scholarblogs.emory.edu/gpse/. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.