University of Iowa – June 2017

Iowa City, IA

University of Iowa Professor Sara Bond faced online criticism after she wrote a column in the online arts publication Hyperallergic in which she refuted the idea that the white coloring of the marble statues of antiquity represented the classical ideal of skin color. Bond instead argued that the statues’ white coloring was the result of their original paint fading over time. She also said that this misperception was used to justify contemporary racism. Conservative and right-leaning websites criticized her for her comments, leading to online harassment and calls for her termination.

Key Players

Julia Bond is an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa. Bond wrote a piece for a website called Hyperallergic that pushed back against the idea that white must have been the ideal skin color in the classical era, since all surviving marble statues from the era are colored white. Instead, Bond asserted that the statues had originally been painted with a variety of different skin colors, but that such paint had faded over time. She argued that this misperception had contributed to contemporary white supremacy, because it led those who viewed the statues to believe that white skin was regarded as the ideal skin color at the time of the statues’ creation. Bond was criticized by right-leaning media outlets and was subsequently subjected to online harassment, some of which was anti-Semitic (Bond is of Jewish heritage), according to Inside Higher Ed. Commenters also called for her termination from the university.

John F. Finamore, chair of the Classics Department at the University of Iowa, said that he was aware of the backlash Bond’s piece had generated online, and that he was working with the dean’s office and the university’s threat assessment team to ensure Bond’s safety. He also said that all members of the department had been supportive of Bond.

Further Details

In her article, Bond advocated for better museum signage, 3-D reconstructions of statues, and information posted next to statues in order to give the viewer a better understanding what the sculpture would have looked like just after being created. Bond said that a lack of understanding of the fact that statues had been painted in various skin tones contributed to white supremacist ideas. This led to right-wing media organizations skewering her for being too sensitive. Bond believes that her critics and harassers saw her as an example of the “hyperliberalization of the academy,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

Bond’s experience is similar to those of other academics who have published their opinions, only to be met with vociferous criticism and threats of violence. Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was threatened after criticizing Donald Trump during a commencement speech at Hampshire College. Texas A&M Professor Tommy Curry was threatened due to comments he made about violence against white people in the popular movie “Django Unchained.” These two examples, along with that of Bond, have been cited in an ongoing discussion about the online intimidation of scholars.

Elsewhere in the academic world, scholars have offered Bond praise, saying that they thought her work was valuable. Miami University Professor Denise McCoskey said that she didn’t understand why people wanted to diminish their own understandings of the ancient world by refusing to acknowledge that classical ideals might not reflect the ideals of modern society.

Outcome

Bond harassed, but unharmed

Bond received hateful messages online due to her assertions about classical sculpture. Some comments targeted her for being a person of Jewish descent. Others said that she should be fired. Some advocated for violence against her, prompting the University of Iowa threat response team to assess the situation.

Conversations on the intimidation of scholars

After seeing the response to Bond’s piece, other academics and academic institutions have begun to discuss how academic opinions are perceived and the kinds of reactions they engender online.

External References:

Threats for What She Didn’t Say, Inside Higher Ed

Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color, Hyperallergic

Professor: White-Marble Sculpture Contributes to ‘White Supremacy’, National Review

Prepared by Chris Castano ‘16

September 11, 2017