In Columbia University's student newspaper, four members of the school's student Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board call on professors to be more sensitive when teaching provocative or controversial material... such as the Roman classical poet Ovid.
Ovid is best known for The Metamorphoses, a 15-book narrative poem that covers more than 250 mythological stories. Written entirely in dactylic hexameter, The Metamorphoses inspired future writers from Dante to Chaucer to Shakespeare. Whether or not it's something today's students should spend time on may be up for debate, but I think most people can understand why an instructor teaching it would focus on things like the language and imagery invoked.
Not these Columbia students, however. See, some of the myths Ovid recounts involve sexual violence. Zeus' daughter Persephone (aka Prosperina), for instance, is kidnapped, raped, and taken as a bride by Hades, king of the underworld. The op-ed writers suggest this ancient Greek and Roman myth is too triggering to be taught in today's classroom:
During the week spent on Ovid’s "Metamorphoses," the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
Ovid’s "Metamorphoses" is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.