Publilius Syrus, 78
“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”
Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.
I am just going to get straight to it. This is a request for money. Not for me. Not for this site. There isn’t going to be a prolonged funding drive and there won’t be any cool canvas tote bags. But this is a plea for money.
I am asking you to support The Sportula. If you don’t know what The Sportula is, you probably have not been active on Classics Twitter for the past year or so, but it is, in my ever so humble opinion, one of the most original, important, and socially minded initiatives to develop in the disciplines of Classical Studies in a generation. It is a collective of graduate students who provide microgrants “ to economically marginalized undergraduates in Classics.” It is original because no one has done it before; it is important because it addresses an overlooked set of needs traditional fellowships and grants can rarely touch; and it is socially minded because it directly addresses issues of equity and inclusion that plague our field.
I don’t want to make this about me (although I will shortly). But Erik and I have never asked for money. We have run this site for the past eight years without support from anyone. We can do this because we are both lucky enough to have full-time, renewable, long-term employment in the fields of classics. If the founders of The Sportula are not inspiration enough for you, but you have ever been amused, educated, enraged, or otherwise distracted from the horrors of life by this website or its twitter feed, please give some money.
If you missed Amy Pistone’s virtual 5K, you can can donate through Go-Fund Me with a single payment; you can become a patron through Patreon and donate a small amount every month; or you can donate through the book auction book on by the phenomenal and dauntless Dr. Liv Yarrow. The twitter feed for our site has alone 23 thousand followers: if every one gave a single dollar a month, we could fund the next generation of Classics alone.
And let me be clear about this. I do not actually know the founders or directors of the Sportula. I have never even exchanged an email with them. But I believe so deeply in what they do and think that it is evidence not merely of great minds but also of great souls that I will gladly make some noise for them.
If we lived in a more perfect world, all students would have the financial means to attend school, buy books, get to class, pay rent. If we lived in a better world, the inability to do any of this would not be tied to historical, structural, and institutional racisms and prejudice. But we do not live in that world. That’s why we need revolutionary vision, a DIY aesthetic, and the courage to ask for help and give it whenever capable. This is why we need The Sportula.
Dicta Catonis 15
“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”
Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.
Ok, here’s a story. As I have talked about before, I didn’t come from much money, but I could cut some corners and bend some rules here and there and I didn’t realize how much of that success depended on my race, gender, and sexual orientation until much later in life. The point is, despite this, funding and living in graduate school was hard. In 2001, I started at NYU on a stipend of 13,000.00 dollars a year with no health insurance. I hustled a bit: I worked in the Dean’s office; I was an editorial assistant for the Classical World; I took every tutoring job I could find; and then I taught every summer course they’d give me.
But even with long days which afforded just barely enough time to finish course work, my financial support was a shell game that required credit cards, student loans, and some willful denial. All this fell apart in my fourth year of graduate school when there was an electrical fire that burned out my apartment. I lost everything. No, I did not have renter’s insurance. No, I did not have savings. I had the clothes on my back, a cat who survived the fire (and needed $900.00 in medical treatment, thank you MBNA America), and an equally broke fiancee in dental school. Oh, and 18 thousand dollars in credit card debt. Those years of cutting corners had caught up.
My department bought me a new computer so I could continue my dissertation the very next day. When the red cross assistance turned out to be $200.00 dollars, some graduate student friends raised over 700 dollars at a party so my roommate and I could buy stuff for a renovated place. That was the community I had and it filled me with joy and well-being.
But I still had to face the fact that I was financially insolvent. My future wife and I were able to take out even more student loans (at 6.9% interest, a damn sight better than the 29% APR my credit card had ballooned to after I failed on my monthly payments). I was lucky enough to get a job in the last good year on the market in 2007—but even then we struggled for a few years (starting salary for a Homerist in 2007, 52K a year). I just paid off my final student loan this year at age 40.
When I think back on this ‘success story’, I don’t see a good plan or smart decisions, I see a series of close misses and dumb luck. We got health insurance as part of a graduate student union deal my second year: this meant I could have shoulder surgery. What if something had happened earlier or the insurance company had denied a pre-existing condition? What if there had been one fewer class for me to teach in the summer? What if I had gotten sick? What if I had been robbed while paying my rent for half a year in cash? (This happened to a classmate. And yes, I paid cash to my shady orthodontist land-lord in exchange for never facing a rent increase.) What if I had been arrested and had to pay legal fees (it was NYC, there were reasons)? What if I had not gotten a job right away or not had a supportive partner to help me bear the burden?
And all of these questions come after the question, what if I had been born looking like someone who isn’t me? As human beings, we have an insistent and necessary capability for denial—I mean, we walk around every day acting like we are not going to die and all. But this also means that we deny the essential precarity that attends each of our lives and take credit for the fact that bad shit does not happen every day. This is not a true view of the world. People slip on sidewalks and get concussions; people get cancer; people get treated like shit by other people; shit happens and too much of it is out of our control.
The Sportula is a force of good in the universe, designed and aimed at exerting just a little bit of corrective control. Microgrants may seem minor, but when you can’t make ends meet and need just a little help, they are the thing. This work is small in the every day, but aggregated over time it is transformative. The Sportula is that group of friends who threw a party for a kid whose apartment burned down. But they do it every day for people they don’t know.
Please, give some money to The Sportula. They make me believe in the basic goodness of humankind.
Seneca, De Beneficiis 4
“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”
Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.