A Long-Distance Relationship with Plato
For nearly two decades, classics majors at Southwestern have been part of a national conversation, thanks to Sunoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs operating under the auspices of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.
Pronounced “sun-oy-kiss-iss,” the program enables Southwestern students and faculty to have opportunities normally available only at large research institutions, while maintaining the advantages of a small liberal arts learning environment. Professor of Classics Hal Haskell explains that through inter-institutional collaborative, team-taught courses, excavations, internships, travel study and undergraduate research symposia, Sunoikisis exposes our students to a wider range of subject material and faculty than would be possible otherwise.
A national consortium of Classics programs. “Sunoikisis” comes from Thucydides (3.3.1) in reference to the alliance formed by the cities of Lesbos (Methymna excluded) in their revolt against the Athenian empire in 428 B.C.E. Likewise, this collaborative program seeks to develop a set of common goals and achieve a degree of success and prominence that goes beyond the capacity of a single program.
Inherently and broadly interdisciplinary by nature, classics majors study language, literature, philosophy, history, political science, natural sciences, archeology and more. Sunoikisis brings together—through the use of modern technology—faculty members with a wide range of disciplinary expertise for the benefit of the broader class and each other. “Our students learn with and from students and faculty from schools across the country, like Rhodes, Howard, Tufts, Rutgers and Harvard,” says Haskell.
Southwestern classics majors actively participate in the traditional classroom setting, as well as in the larger virtual classroom. Unlike typical MOOCs (massive open online courses), Sunoikisis virtual classrooms are anything but passive. Haskell says, “My students and I gather together in the same physical space where we use Google Hangouts to interact with students and faculty in classrooms around the country. In addition to the synchronous live classes and asynchronous online sessions, we always have on-campus face-to-face sessions as well. We take advantage of all means of communication.”
While faculty members from the participating institutions take turns teaching, they are always present and participating. “Sunoikisis only works because all of the faculty are there to mentor and to model academic discourse by participating in all the conversations. Each faculty member has to be completely engaged and invested,” says Haskell. “It’s a lot more work, but an incredible opportunity; interacting with Harvard faculty keeps me on my toes.”
“It’s a lot more work, but an incredible opportunity; interacting with Harvard faculty keeps me on my toes”Hal Haskell, Professor of Classics
Neither students nor faculty are just sitting in a classroom; they are actively participating. “We’re just exploiting the technology as the medium to share information across physical boundaries,” says Haskell. “We have an obligation to meet our students where they are, technologically, in the 21st century, for better or worse.”
In the larger sense, Sunoikisis allows a small liberal arts school like Southwestern and our programs to be assessed on a national stage. One may wonder if Southwestern students measure up. Haskell’s emphatic answer is, “Yes! Through a system of double-blind grading, we know for a fact that Southwestern students are always competitive.”
For Southwestern alumni, Sunoikisis demonstrates that the excellent liberal arts experience they had is continuing and getting better, that the University is adapting—as it always has—to where our students are, and that while our mission remains the same, we can deliver on that mission more effectively without reducing standards or expectations.
Story by Kristina Moore