The Charger Blog

Students’ Research Connects Ancient Sophocles Play with Conflict in Syria

As part of a project for their first-year writing course, students were challenged to examine the conflict in Antigone, a Greek play written more than 2,000 years ago, and the impact of the current turmoil in Syria.

November 18, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications

Image of documentary screening
Students, faculty, and staff attended the recent screening of "We Are Not Princesses" in New Haven.

Haley Malloy ’23, a fire science major, recently wrote a paper about "We Are Not Princesses," a documentary about four Syrian women living as refugees in Beirut and rehearsing for a performance of Antigone in light of that classic play by Sophocles—this year’s Honors Common Read. A Marine poolee who is preparing to go to boot camp and basic training in early 2020, Malloy says the assignment was eye-opening.

"I learned so much about the differences between cultures," she said. "In the United States, I am allowed to be myself, and no one tells me what to do. It is very different in other parts of the world, and, although we often see that as upsetting, some people don’t necessarily look at it that way."

Malloy was among the dozens of members of the University and New Haven communities who recently attended a screening of "We Are Not Princesses" in New Haven. Several University offices and departments supported the event, including the College of Arts and Sciences, the International Services Office, the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Honors program.

The documentary follows four Syrian women who are living as refugees in Beirut, Lebanon. They come together to tell their stories, and, they, ultimately, find healing through Antigone. They discovered they could relate to Antigone, the main character in the ancient Greek play.

Malloy and her classmates read Antigone and watched the documentary before the screening, then they developed questions to help them decide what source materials were needed to help them better understand the texts. They found a variety of materials, including a study about women experiencing violence in Syria and multiple editions of Antigone.

"I was impressed with the sources students found, and I think the resulting projects demonstrate how engaged they were in answering the questions that the texts raised for them." Mary Isbell, Ph.D.

Their instructor, Mary Isbell, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, wanted the students to learn how to articulate their questions and answer them with rigorous research while learning about the real-world conflict in Syria.

"I was impressed with the sources students found, and I think the resulting projects demonstrate how engaged they were in answering the questions that the texts raised for them," said Isbell. "The often-assigned play was much more alive because we were looking at a contemporary adaptation and getting insight into the experience of the women adapting it."

Attending the screening in New Haven enabled students to see what members of the local community – including staff members from Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services – are doing to help address the challenges that the conflict has caused.

Lauren Kempton, Ed.D, practitioner in residence in the University’s sociology department, also attended the screening, and she says students studying the play and watching the film would discover something they could identify with.

"Each of the refugee women featured in ‘We Are Not Princesses’ gradually becomes personally invested physically, artistically, and spiritually in preparing to perform the classical Greek tragedy Antigone," she said. "Students can relate to the universality of the play and of the lives of the women themselves as they find their voices and bring their characters to life."

Sarah Driscoll says her role as an international student advisor at the University enables her to meet students from across the globe, and the film was a wonderful opportunity for her to learn more about Syrian culture.

"I always enjoy the opportunities to experience other cultures," she said. "I enjoyed this film because it enabled me to do that."