A few weeks ago, I left an after-work lecture with Living Latin–a talk on second language acquisition that reminded me of several nerdy linguist friends–and waited for other interns by the restroom entrance.

Only what I found there (to my American eyes, anyway) was not a typical doorway.

The picture shows it clearly: a set of 2-foot-tall steps jutting abruptly out of the door frame. Granted, I don’t know about the original architecture of St. John’s University, or why someone felt they needed to add this weird little feature. But it’s just one of a myriad of problems with physical accessibility I’ve noticed around Rome. Steep curbs, buildings with no ramps, and, yes, more seemingly unnecessary staircases–surprise!–pop up everywhere. I’m reminded of issues my friends at home with mobility-related impairments face because of similarly poor design, and want to learn more about how these are viewed in this city.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility in the day-to-day work of my internship, too. Between the projects I’ve juggled for the last five (!) weeks and the staff seminars we gather for on Fridays, I wonder: what are the “stairs in the bathroom” in my areas of study? In classics, and–more broadly–how I think about education?

Image of the word CONVERSATION rendered as brick wall, with lines of sight pointing to potential openings in the letters. The lines direct to an androgynous figure in a striped shirt on the left, who asks in a speech bubble, "But how to get in?..."
A bad post-lecture doodle inspired by trying to jump into discussion

One of our first staff-led lectures focused on instructional design and technology, which was so interesting to me as an educational studies major–it was the first time I’d heard drafting a lesson plan described in the same way as telling a story. I was disappointed, though, when the conversation afterwards immediately turned only to the evils of Big Tech, rather than the many ways that digital technologies are used to share educational resources with those who wouldn’t have had access to them otherwise. (Just look at Dickinson College Commentaries!) Could organizations like Paideia be doing more with technology to reach out to others?

Another discussion led to pitting the humanities against vocational studies–do these things have to be mutually exclusive? What kind of message does it send if we position a traditional academic path as the only way to learn about some subjects? And what about money? I’m incredibly fortunate that Dickinson’s internship fund is covering this experience, but I think every day about the qualified people who can’t participate in educational opportunities like this one because of the expenses attached.

Image of a box full of yellow LEGO figure heads.
Everyone’s got their own unique experiences. (Did you know Rome has a LEGO store?!)

I know I’m far from listing all the possible barriers; I could ask these questions, which inch up my notes like angry caterpillars, for days. I don’t have answers that make good and snappy sign-offs for internship blog posts, or many at all, for that matter. But I’m learning–it’s one of the reasons why I want to study education at this point. And I’m hoping that what I’ve done this summer will have some ripples in the groups Paideia works with.

I touched on my research for Nexus–a professional network for former Classics undergrads working outside academia–a little bit in my last post. ¬†Since I began looking for prospective members, I’ve reached out to hundreds of people, and the responses I’ve received are affirming and shout-to-other-interns exciting (which does happen!). I’ve heard from engineers and software designers who still consider the humanities their first love, and a man who tries to read the Bible daily in Koine Greek. I’ve contacted ambassadors, truck drivers, lawyers, and fashion designers–all of whom, at one point or another, encountered classics. Many replies read similarly: It’s been a while since I looked at classics…it would be great to study it again.¬†It’s thrilling to me to think that some of these individuals–maybe for the first time in a long time–will join a community with resources to help them pursue an academic passion beyond traditional expectations.

Image of a mosaic with a finely white tiled background and three black squares wrapped around a picture at the middle with several figures.
It feels like Development is putting something big together piece-by-piece, like this ancient mosaic at the Palazzo Massimo museum.

Last week, we also began researching foundations and writing grant proposals for Paideia initiatives. I’m focusing mine on Aequora–an after-school program that teaches Latin and literacy skills to kids in underprivileged areas–and am currently gathering statistics and drafting a cover letter. On the last day of my internship next week, I’ll be presenting my proposal along with the rest of Development to our whole office.

Stairs of all kinds, of course, will be around long after I leave then. Hopefully, though, this work is the start of imagining other ways to build.

July 10, 2019

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