The Sportula: A Statement on the Paideia Institute
Dear Classics community,
The Sportula believes that the Paideia Institute and its affiliated programs create an environment that is hostile to people of color, women, students from working-class backgrounds, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups. We have heard from members of our community about misogynistic, racist, sexist, and discriminatory practices by the Paideia Institute.
Earlier this summer, we received a microgrant request from an instructor who needed to rent space to run a Latin summer camp. The camp was part of Aequora, a program run by the Paideia Institute that aims to “expand access to Latin and Greek” based on a “belief that everyone should have access to Latin and by a vision of Classics as an inclusive, diverse, and socially engaged field.” Paideia had already given the instructor a $90 grant to cover the cost of supplies, but would not fully cover the program’s cost by paying for the camp space. We funded the grant, but were left unsatisfied. The Paideia Institute is a much larger, more thoroughly and formally funded organization than us; why was the Sportula called upon to fund one of their programs?
A number of community members came forward to share their own experiences with the Paideia Institute. The Sportula Collective wholeheartedly supports everyone who came forward with their personal testimonies, no questions asked, and have selectively quoted the following from their firsthand accounts. Although we support all members of our community, we cannot verify the validity of any of these anecdotes, and the Sportula does not claim to assert the truth of any of the following stories. At the end of this piece, we list some actions we plan on taking in light of these troubling revelations about the Paideia Institute.
- When I was a staff member, I attended a dinner with the Executive Director of the Institute. After speaking with other instructors about problems of gender imbalance in Latin departments, the Executive Director began a defense of white men, saying that the problem with my point of view was that when departments hire more women, white men inevitably lose their jobs. From there, he expanded to complaints about liberal discourse in general, touching momentarily on what he perceived to be intentionally misleading narratives in the media concerning the Black Lives Matter movement and defending cops who had killed black men. At some point he said that progressive feminists view white men the same way that Nazis in Hitler’s Germany viewed people who were Jewish. In my presence, the Executive Director expressed on other occasions both a disbelief in the value of equity and diversity in the modern workplace, and a white-supremacist narrative about the medieval and ancient world.
- Paideia’s summer internship has (or had last year, I’m not totally sure now) a $3500 program fee, which covers about 6 weeks of rent in AUR housing in Trastevere (a 4 bedroom apartment shared with 5 other interns in my case), a public transit pass, weekly museum visits, and a couple of meals (say… 3ish). Several of the interns were in a precarious financial position during the summer, and many of us noted our concerns to the institute in an exit survey at the end of the internship. When Jason sent us his follow-up email he said (this is directly taken from the email) “We know that $3500 excluding flight and board is a lot to pay. We looked really hard at the costs associated with the internship to try to bring down the cost for students, but realized that there’s just no way to do it more cheaply. Even with students (or ideally their universities) paying this amount, the institute will still lose over $20K on the program this summer.” He then proceeded to offer us half-off a Paideia program we may do in the future, but considering most of us were rising seniors, this offer felt somewhat insulting. Over the course of the summer we *heavily* edited Aequora, and designed 3 totally new programs (Nexus, Eureka, and Elementa) working 9–5 for the Institute. The environment was hostile toward the women, mainly in the forms of repeatedly disregarding their concerns that certain tasks were futile, that they were being overworked (well over 40 hours of work per week, maybe 60 — again, without compensation), and not giving a platform for the interns who had run Aequora sites to share their experiences, despite doing so for older visitors. Despite Paideia marketing itself as a progressive, forward-thinking classics organization, we often felt like this branding was just a thin veneer to attract young, more progressive talent to both give them money, and then create programs for them. During a debrief, there was an incident where an argument broke out between an intern and Jason over whether “we could judge how and why people use our materials (and classics in general) ,” when an intern raised concerns about the alt right and neo-Nazi appropriation of classics saying “I’m not going to link arms with the alt right,” Jason responded “Would you rather see classics just die?” (yes).
- I worked for Paideia, and one of their chief executives… is a borderline fascist. I’m not exaggerating — he’s a Trump supporter, and I heard he tried to get it written into the bylaws that they wouldn’t have to provide housing for the partners of queer faculty members. He’s made nearly every female staff member uncomfortable by telling them that he thinks women are happier when they’re not working. But the bigger problem is how [they] handle… complaints when they occur. He always deals with things quietly and through backchannels, without any formal policies to protect against discrimination.
- The student make-up of the Living Latin in Rome program, where I was a student, was overwhelmingly white, privileged, Ivy League, etc. Part of the program involved singing songs like “A Pirate’s Life” in Latin, which featured lyrics about raping and pillaging. No women were acknowledged or read in the program. At one time I was reluctantly offered a job in Rome by one of the directors with very little pay and sketchy responsibilities, and I was insulted by him when I considered turning it down: he told me the pay was “equivalent to the salary of a migrant worker,” as though this were something I should be impressed by. Paideia tries to present itself as an inclusive and accepting space, but I know for a fact that they are elitist and conservative and don’t care about meaningfully engaging with women (comments have been made to the effect that there are no capable female Latinists), people of colour (I once heard a comment to the effect that a video featuring an African Latinist would “appease” the institute’s detractors), and anyone else who strays from their idea of a Classicist. Over the years I have vowed to keep my distance from them, and I wouldn’t recommend their programs to anyone.
- They didn’t start organizing the rooms or appointments for sites until a month or so before the program started even though we had been asking them for months about it. They ended up booking us in the exact spot we didn’t want because nothing else was left available, they randomly changed our syllabus on us without checking because apparently the US office had not shared our syllabus with the Rome office, they ignored emails repeatedly, we had to explain to them how to contact and whom to ask for special entries at certain sites because they refuse to work with archaeologists or other local people with knowledge.
- The two problematic leaders each draw six-figure salaries: (type “paideia institute” into this finder for public records of their salaries: http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder)... This is in a nonprofit organizations…that requires interns to PAY to “volunteer” with Paideia.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMfnw6oBq9w This video was made to promote the Spoken Latin course at Princeton taught by a Paideia staff member. As you can see, the class was entirely men except for one woman; the woman is the only person shown in the video to be making an error. The whole thing is close-captioned EXCEPT for the part where all the men laugh together after one of them made a conservative wolf-whistle joke about FDR and the New Deal. Gotta keep the white male jokes private! Only the worthy can understand! Also, the video was made by a videographer who has worked for Paideia before and been accused of harassment; apparently that didn’t matter, and they were happy to hire him again.
- Up until very recently, there was no HR department. Not even after multiple staff members mentioned to the two directors that they would feel more comfortable having HR. All complaints of harassment went…directly to the two directors. Which kind of didn’t work when they’re best friends with everyone who’s being complained about.
- In this book review on the New Criterion (https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2018/2/the-gaul-of-caesar), which unfortunately is now paywalled, (you can still see the beginning of the quote, though) the author of the piece, Jason Pedicone, who is one of Paideia’s co-founders, says this about the Gallic wars: “During the eight-year campaign, Caesar’s armies are estimated to have killed over one millions Gauls, the entire population of the city of Rome at its height. Yet this bloodshed, like many mass outpourings of organized violence in human history, laid a foundation for future prosperity and….” He literally justifies GENOCIDE by saying that it’s actually just good for the future of the conquerors.
- I was at LGiG when the Charlottesville white supremacist march took place in the summer of 2017. The morning after, the President of the institute gathered us all together to tell us that we could talk to staff if we needed support, but that this circumstance made it even more important that we all speak ancient Greek with each other. This collocation felt callous and utterly inappropriate in light of the severity of the incident in Charleston.
- For the most part, students are insulated from the Paideia Institute’s most abusive practices, as they primarily interact with the teachers. But for the staff, who have to answer to the leadership, there is no escape from the constant bullying, gaslighting, and exploitation. This is especially true if one is a woman and/or person of color. While Paideia loves to talk about gender equality, in practice this amounts to no more than a ruse to deflect from its own hostile work environment. The Institute has had persistent problems with hiring and retaining women, and the leadership consistently dismisses the voices of the few women who stay. They make women feel that their gender is either a hindrance or the only reason they work at the Institute. Paideia tolerates the presence of PoC but expect total deference to the idea of “Western civilization” as a price. In general, the leadership goes out of its way to punish anyone who questions the toxic culture. For a staff member, this can mean termination of their position, but it can also mean that they continue to work for people who actively humiliate them. (Often the latter is actually worse.) I know many staff who have issues with the Institute’s behavior but are afraid to speak up because the leadership has gaslit them into thinking that they exercise outsize influence on their professional and financial futures. In reality, the leadership deflates the staff’s salaries and pads their own pockets. Sometimes they don’t pay their employees anything, offering transportation or accommodation (what would be considered an expense anywhere else) or “experience” in lieu. That’s the irony — Paideia pays almost nothing, and it costs so much to work there.
- Paideia is one of the most toxic work environments I’ve ever been in. Men at the top talk to men, almost without exclusion. The institute tries to save face by saying that it listens to our concerns as staff, teachers, and participants but I have seen them literally reject negative evaluations, promote known sexual harassers, renew contracts with buildings where there are known sexual predators, hire women because they are considered attractive, make women attend things so it doesn’t look like it’s all men but then give them zero role or room to speak…fire women because they speak out about workplace harassment, publicly state that they strive to diversify but privately (in one on one meetings, group meetings, and other settings) admit they have zero need to change because nothing is wrong with how they run things. When I brought up over and over again that I think they need training because many of the issues run deep in their bro-culture, like learning not to stand in all-male huddles, not to only have lunch with their “in group” of favorites…[one of the co-founders] makes a lot of claims about trying to change… [the other co-founder], on the other hand, has said many times that there is not going to be a change because there is nothing wrong with Paideia. As recently as this month, I saw a student of color get her entire contribution to a talent show controlled and hijacked by a white male on staff. As recently as this month, I saw women walk out of group seminars because they were tired of hearing men only talk about male characters and any time a woman spoke, she was ignored. As recently as this month, I saw how one brave teacher [redacted] organized with her own time, money, and resources a seminar one evening to discuss women characters in the texts. Eric did not attend, and Jason came in and spent the entire time on his cell phone, only looking up when men talked. He then shared in the seminar that he was looking up the history of the missionary position, a comment that was utterly off topic and inappropriate to what the group was working to understand about the female characters.
- My experience with Paideia is summed up in the following email that I wrote to…the President and Co-Founder of the Paideia Institute, after an incident during the summer:
I submitted several complaints about specific instances of harassment over the past few weeks to you…I told you how this bullying by not only students, BUT PAIDEIA STAFF, had escalated to such a point that I could not focus on studying Latin. I explained to you how important it was that I be able to study and improve my Latin this summer, as I was planning on taking a graduate level Latin course at Princeton in the Fall and desperately wanted to do well. Due to the racism that I have experienced at the Paideia Institute, I will no longer continue such study.
Despite my repeatedly coming to you about these instances of bullying, the harassment was not only allowed to continue, but to escalate to the point where I was not able to participate in class without being mocked by elitist students who were joined by [redacted], Paideia’s media intern. Repeated complaints about [redacted]’s harassment were dismissed. When I kept quiet in class, I was harassed for having the nerve to be there, as my very presence seemed to make these racists uncomfortable…
Last night, you came to my home with a plan…for me to leave my home because my roommates did not want me there anymore. After being confronted for talking about me (again) in my own home, they decided that they did not want me in “their” house and I should move somewhere. The majority vote had evicted me and management agreed to make this happen for them. In your bid to convince me to leave, you were sure to let me know that my roommates thought it would be best if I moved out.
You chose to move [redacted], a Paideia staff member, into my room with my roommates. I was to be given [redacted]’s apartment on the other side of town where I knew no one. This is after I reported being sexual assaulted less than two weeks ago when we went to an unfamiliar area. Not telling me whose apartment it was because you knew that I would refuse it, you tried to sell it to me as the opportunity to have my own place and live like an adult. How could you try to trick me into moving into the apartment of a staff member who has spent the entire program harassing me and mocking me with Paideia students, while bringing this same problematic staff member to live with the Paideia students she mocked me with, in my personal space, living in close quarters with these students?
…When you came over last night to pressure me out of my home, I tried to work with you. You made it clear that my refusal to move was a large inconvenience for you, and I was not trying to be difficult…I then asked you if you were there to tell me that my only option was to leave, meaning that [redacted] would move into my room and live with the roommates who have bullied me from the first week of the program, and I was to be segregated from everyone, living by myself in a space that made me uncomfortable against my wishes. You told me that it would be best for everyone. I guess that I am not counted in your estimation of everyone.
It is a good thing I refused to move (despite repeated requests to reconsider) and stood up for myself. I now see that I am my only ally at Paideia.
As a result of these events, I will no longer file my complaints through Paideia’s channels.
Although the Paideia Institute claims they are actively working on these issues by writing a diversity statement and hiring a diversity consultant, we were deeply disturbed by the information we found about this consultant.
First, the company of said consultant is called “Racy Conversations.” The term “racy” connotes something scandalous or a marked form of speech not appropriate for all occasions. Applying this term to conversations on race reinforces its stigma, especially within academic spaces.
Second, she summarizes her work as such:
“While my focus is on race, I am committed to ending all forms of marginalization- including marginalization of white people. I am proud of my heritage, proud of the values my family instilled in me, and not at all ashamed to be white. I want everyone in our society to thrive and to recognize the humanity in each other.”
At the least, this statement appears as though a somewhat defensive follow-up to potential detractors. The fact that whiteness is neither a unified culture nor single heritage to be “proud of,” however, makes this statement even more disturbing. The consultant’s conclusion to anti-racist work is a statement about white pride, showing that her commitment to anti-racism is surface-level and unexamined.
This brings us to the third red flag, which is that she ends her bio with the Bobby Seale quote, “you don’t fight racism with racism. You fight racism with solidarity.” An odd juxtaposition, considering the fact that Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party.
After funding our micrograntee who was part of Aequora, we sent the Paideia Institute an invoice, insisting that they cover the cost of their own outreach program. The invoice was ignored. This leaves us with less money to support other micrograntees, due to Paideia’s failure to support their own outreach efforts.
To conclude, while we have never and will continue to never provide conditions for our grants, The Sportula collective prefers to no longer support microgrant requests related to the Paideia Institute. While we will not ignore a member of our community in need, we cannot in any way conscientiously endorse the Institute’s hostile environment.
We plan on taking the following steps, and encourage our community members to consider them:
- Spread the word: Alert other community members, students, and peers to potential discrimination from the Paideia Institute.
- Redirect support: Opt to support organizations in the field that are inclusive, safe spaces, and recommend such organizations to The Sportula and your community members:
- Lupercal is a Latin reading group that works to close the gendered gap in Latinitas, and provide a space for women and non-binary Latinists to learn from each other.
- The Classics and Social Justice group brings together those scholars in the field who are working in various ways on social justice, using Classics.
- The Lambda Classical Caucus is a coalition of queer Classicists — including, but not limited to, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, and transgendered people — and their friends and supporters.
- The Women’s Classical Caucus fosters feminist and gender-informed perspectives–especially those with intersectional and global approaches–in the study and teaching of all aspects of ancient Mediterranean cultures and classical antiquity.
- The Asian and Asian American Classical Caucus is a group of Asian and Asian American students and scholars of classical antiquity interested in studying the reception of the classical tradition in contemporary Asian and Asian American culture and committed to increasing the diversity of the field of Classics.
- The Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium is an international professional organization founded in 2016 by doctoral students and faculty at the University of Georgia, Hamilton College, Rutgers University, University of Wisconsin, Bates College, and Cornell University aimed at raising awareness and supporting the study of multiculturalism, race, and ethnicity in classics and classical archaeology.
- Mountaintop Coalition has a shared interest in advancing the professional goals of Classicists who identify as members of ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in the field.
- Eidolon is a feminist, progressive online classics journal that publishes non-traditional content for a broad audience.
- Conventiculum Dickinsoniense is an immersion seminar in active Latin that is open to professors in universities, teachers in secondary schools, graduate students, undergraduates, and other lovers of Latin.
- Divest: Encourage your university to reconsider its relationship with Paideia.
We hope this piece gives a voice to some community members who have felt silenced and mistreated during their interactions with the Paideia Institute.
The Sportula Collective