Greek Mythology Can Be Toxic, According to Columbia University Students

The rape of Persephone

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.” These are the exact words that were used by four student-members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board (MAAB) in their text at the Columbia student newspaper The Spectator, commenting of the effects that the myths of Persephone and Daphne had on a specific student during the study of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in class.

The student, being a survivor of sexual assault, didn’t feel comfortable in the class because of the fact that both myths included vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault, so she complained to the professor but her concerns were dismissed.

In the MAAB’s text, the students proposed that the Center for the Core Curriculum should send a letter to faculty about potential trigger issues and ideas concerning the support of triggered students. In addition, they highlighted the need for a mechanism allowing students to anonymously express their thoughts to professors, a mediation mechanism for others who have identity-based disagreements with specific professors, as well as a training program for all professors.


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