Our fifth interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is a virtual conversation between Dr. Taylor Coughlan and Dr. Daniel Libatique. Dr. Libatique is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Classics at the College of the Holy Cross, from which he received his undergraduate degree and where he has taught since 2018. Daniel received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 2018, and his research interests include Augustan literature, Greek drama, gender politics and sexuality, reception studies, and student-centered pedagogy. In his research, Daniel’s approaches to texts often leverage various modern theoretical frameworks, including narratology and performance theory. His publications investigate topics like the cultural reception of Ovid in our modern #MeToo era, the creation of a Latin curriculum based on morphological and syntactic frequencies in real Latin texts, and attributions of speech in the fragments of Sophocles’ Tereus. Daniel is also heavily involved in the application of digital humanities to the study of Classics and is currently working with his colleagues at Holy Cross to restructure their introductory Greek curriculum. For more of Daniel’s work, check out his website. Follow him on Twitter @DLibatique10.
Taylor Coughlan: Tell us a little about your journey to your current professional position.
Daniel Libatique: As I was completing my Ph.D. at Boston University in Spring 2018, I received a message from Neel Smith, then the chair of the Classics department at Holy Cross, asking if I would be interested in adjuncting for the coming academic year with a 2-2 load and no service requirements. The opportunity to graduate with a job in hand was quite attractive. To make the offer even more attractive, I graduated from Holy Cross with a B.A. in 2010, so it was truly a homecoming of sorts. Neel explicitly instructed me to use my time as an adjunct to benefit my job market portfolio, so in addition to teaching introductory Latin and an intro to Roman literature course, I was able to design my own course on Greco-Roman gender and sexuality, which bolstered my own research interests and became a popular course, with full enrollments in its first iteration during my adjunct year and then second and third iterations during my subsequent time as a Visiting Assistant Professor.
With Neel’s encouragement, I have continued to build my CV through diverse courseloads and service opportunities. In addition to teaching various courses in translation and all levels of language courses, from intro through advanced in both Latin and Greek, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with members of the department on curricular restructurings of our intro Latin and Greek programs, a collaboration which has resulted in open-access teaching materials (like https://lingualatina.github.io/textbook) and a few publications. I am extremely grateful to Neel and to the department for their vested interest in my professional development and their help and guidance as I come into my own as a teacher and a researcher.
TC: How has returning to your undergraduate alma mater as a contingent faculty member shaped your relationship to your position, your department, or the larger institution?
DL: It was surreal coming back to Holy Cross as a faculty member. My former teachers were now my colleagues, and HC students were now looking to me for the same formative educational experience that I had received as a student from my own professors. Seeing my institution from this different vantage point allowed me to understand aspects of my undergraduate education that I was only able to wonder about before, like how the department’s course offerings are shaped each semester and what training and resources professors can use in crafting their syllabi and classroom assignments.
Having such a strong emotional connection to this institution has proven to be a double-edged sword, however. While I care deeply about Holy Cross and my students, and I’m grateful to teach and research on the safety of home turf, as it were, the knowledge that my contract will end hides in the back of my brain and reminds me that I cannot grow too attached; otherwise, saying goodbye will become that much harder when the time comes.
TC: You are quite active on social media. What do you see as the relationship between social media use and contingency?
DL: Social media evens the playing field when it comes to who gets to participate in discussions pertinent to our field. It eliminates barriers to entry like faraway locations for expensive conferences and allows us to hear voices that typically get silenced or ignored in “traditional” media like print journals or peer-reviewed monographs. It’s also an excellent place for teachers to collaborate and inspire others’ plans. In particular, I’m indebted to Classics Twitter for many of the most successful assessments, activities, and learning tools in my classrooms, like a commonplace-book project in a Latin seminar or mnemonics in the intro language classroom.
Social media also allows contingent faculty to create community in an immediate, direct way. Organizations like the SCS Committee on Contingent Faculty and events at the annual meeting and regional organization meetings are great, but the immediacy and location-agnostic nature of social media lets us hear others’ stories and forge solidarity as we navigate the job market and our institutions. Contingency is a lonely experience; hearing from others in the same position, dealing with similar feelings, can be therapeutic.
TC: How has contingency impacted your teaching?
DL: Contingency asks us to pursue the core goals of academia (teach students, engage in research, perform service) without the security of a permanent place in the profession. The mental effects of that lack of security can be pretty damaging; it makes me feel like I’m less worthy of a permanent position than others, even if I know that my publication record is as impressive as others’ and my teaching has impacted my students’ lives positively.
The most difficult part of contingency with regard to teaching is forging bonds with students whom I know I will have to leave. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to see some wonderful students grow from semester to semester, from intro language and in-translation classes to the seminar level. Their trust in me, and mine in them, has created great opportunities for them to explore their interests, with me as their unofficial guide or mentor. However, since I don’t know whether I’ll be at the same institution or even in Classics in the coming year, I’ve had to turn down requests to serve as official project advisors, and I cannot plan for anything in my own life beyond the following May, let alone guide a student’s course or thesis plans. My multi-year time at one institution is also atypical; often, a contingent faculty member will have just one semester or one year to create those necessary bonds with students, only to leave as quickly as they arrived. This lack of longevity at one institution precludes deeper connections with students and chances to help shape their academic journeys in more meaningful ways.
TC: How do you think the field can or should adapt and evolve to better serve students/colleagues/community?
DL: The field of Classics belongs to anyone who wants to study it, from tenured professors to the Greek-less reader who just picked up a translation of the Iliad, from field excavation directors to the high-school-aged aspiring archaeologist, from museum curators and library liaisons to poets and artists inspired by ancient works. If we draw the definition of “Classicist” more broadly than has historically been the case, we create more opportunities with a larger group of people to illustrate why the ancient world is worth studying: the study of the ancient past arms us with the tools with which we can interrogate our present in terms of politics, socio-cultural dynamics, and structures of power from the home to the workplace. These issues affect everyone, not just professors and students in a college classroom, and our understanding of our past and present worlds is complete only when it has been analyzed by those with diverse points of view and different life experiences.
This means breaking down the stereotype of Classics as a mostly white, cisgender, heteronormative field by listening to and amplifying the voices of our POC and LGBTQ+ colleagues in social media, publications, and tenure-track positions; combating misappropriations of antiquity in, e.g., white nationalist or homophobic rhetoric and propaganda; and calling out racism, sexism, LGBTQ+-phobia, and other types of discrimination wherever it appears, in our scholarly materials, educational workspaces, and social media interactions. In order for the field to serve the community better, the field must be diverse and inclusive, and in order for the field to be diverse and inclusive, both its members and its institutions have to interrogate their biases and break down exclusionary barriers.
Header image: Young man with a volumen, fresco from Pompeii, 1st c. C.E., Naples. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.