A Few Thoughts on Virtual CAMWS 2021

Just a couple of weeks ago we wrapped up the 117th CAMWS—and the second virtual CAMWS—annual meeting. I thought this year’s virtual conference was a huge success, thanks in large part to the amazing team of CAMWS tech volunteers who helped keep everything running smoothly. In both the panels I attended live and the ones I watched after the fact, there were very few tech hiccups—no more than we ever have in live, in-person conferences, in fact. And unlike last year, when the in-person conference wasn’t moved online until half the country was already in lockdown and some of the conference leadership seemed to grouchily prefer cancelling over having a virtual event, everyone who participated in CAMWS this year seemed to have a great attitude about the whole thing!

Sure, there are some cons to virtual conferencing replacing in-person events. I used to love browsing the book exhibits at conferences, running into friends from other institutions across the country and catching up. And there was always something particularly delightful about leaving town for a conference, especially as a graduate student—not being in town meant that you couldn’t be held responsible for whatever was happening in class that week, because you were off doing important professional development—i.e., drinking at the conference hotel bar after your paper presentation. Attending a conference through my laptop screen meant that it was harder to escape those everyday responsibilities of both work and home that an in-person conference eliminates.

Despite all that, I’m still hopeful that future CAMWSes will continue to include a virtual component at the least. Accessibility in its many forms is a huge pro of virtual conferencing. Disabled classicists or those with compromised immune systems for whom travel may be difficult or dangerous can attend a virtual conference without jeopardizing their health. (This is a perk that applies to everyone else, too, as we now know, having lived through covid times.) Conference travel on top of registration fees is often prohibitively expensive for students as well—and, let’s face it, some junior faculty, too. Some departments will cover graduate student travel to conferences if the student is presenting, but if you aren’t presenting and just want to attend, you’re on your own. And even before covid, travel funds were shrinking for many of us—my own department had already warned us that they would no longer be able to guarantee travel funds for presenters after 2019. Virtual conferencing eliminates those barriers to full participation for junior scholars.

And speaking of making CAMWS accessible and welcoming to all: what a delight to see panels and workshops on this year’s program with the specific goals of understanding the experiences of current classicists of marginalized identities as well as teaching and writing about such identities in the ancient world. I attended the presidential panel “Being Black in Classics: Some Experiences and Perspectives” and was incredibly grateful to all of the presenters for their honesty and generosity. This year’s conference also featured “Teaching Transgender Identities and Gender Diversity in Classical Studies,” a workshop for discussing and gathering resources for teaching and writing about diverse (trans)gender identities in the ancient world.

This year’s CAMWS also marked my final annual meeting as a member of the Graduate Student Issues Committee. This affiliate committee does such wonderful work connecting graduate students across the CAMWS territory and providing programming that is relevant to students’ needs. I was particularly proud to have organized and presided over our panel on diverse career opportunities at this year’s meeting. (If you hurry, you can catch all of GSIC’s programming from this year on YouTube before the videos are archived.) If you are a grad student finding your way in a classics-related field, follow GSIC on Twitter and get involved!

If you have more virtual conferences to attend this year, or if you just want to be prepared for the potentially-partially-virtual CAMWS 2022 in Winston-Salem, NC, may I humbly offer this Virtual Conference Drinking Game of my own design? (I don’t recommend getting smashed in live panels and potentially typing embarrassing things in the chat, so if you are playing this game in a live panel as opposed to watching the replay, maybe consider playing with coffee or tea.)

TAKE ONE SIP WHEN:

  • A question turns out to actually just be a comment
  • A presenter forgets to unmute themselves
  • A presenter’s pet appears in their screen
  • Someone draws out the sentence, “I’m going to shaaaaaare my screeeeeen heeeere….”

TAKE TWO SIPS WHEN:

  • A participant begins their question by stating that they have a two-part question
  • A presider makes a joke about seeing/meeting/being with everyone virtually
  • A lag causes participants to talk over each other

FINISH YOUR DRINK WHEN:

  • A participant’s fake background causes them to disappear (or objects that are really in the room to appear) in and out of the background
  • A presider cuts off a panelist for going over time