By Anastasia Kaliabakos
In 2019, I wrote an article for WestView called “Keeping Ancient Greek and Latin Alive.” Back then, I was a starry-eyed senior in high school who was just beginning to appreciate all that the Classics had to offer. I had been studying Latin since middle school, had travelled to Rome through a summer “Latin immersion” program, and had been exposed to Greek culture my entire life as a second-generation Greek American. At the time, I was also deciding the next major step in my life—where to go to college. I chose to attend The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts—not just for its welcoming community and high-level academics, but for its robust and expansive Classics department. I was immediately amazed by the sheer number of professors in the department and the fact that all of them were so supremely knowledgeable about a vast assortment of topics, ranging from Greek tragedy to Classical archaeology to even gender in antiquity. The opportunities to expand my own capabilities as a Classics student were seemingly endless. I wholeheartedly admit that I would not be as well-rounded and capable of a Classicist as I am today without the brilliantly and expertly crafted language courses offered by the Holy Cross Classics department.
As someone who is so passionate about my field of study, I was heartbroken to learn that Princeton University recently announced that its Classics majors will no longer be required to learn Greek or Latin: the “Classics” track was eliminated altogether (which required intermediate proficiency in either Latin or Greek to enter) and the general requirement of taking Greek or Latin was removed. These changes to Princeton’s requirements for the Classics track were instituted in order to create a more inclusive and “equitable” program of study, according to the members of the department. Although the school claims that this change will incentivize more students to become majors, what are the true implications of their decision? Are the Princeton professors admitting to the fact that Classics as a field is racist, thereby invalidating and tarnishing their entire academic careers spent studying and teaching the subject? This can’t possibly be the case. Or are they saying that some students at Princeton University are in fact incapable of succeeding in these rigorous language courses? It’s impossible to wrap your head around this issue without coming to these conclusions.
I understand that the privilege to study Classics is not afforded to all. Communities of color and students in underrepresented groups in the United States have indeed suffered from a lack of access to the Classics. However, this is beginning to change. There are a multitude of upcoming initiatives in middle schools, high schools, and universities to incorporate more BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) and underprivileged students into their Classics departments. I personally have been involved in these types of programs—in high school, I volunteered through the Paideia Institute’s Aequora program, which is driven by the belief that “Classics [is] an inclusive, diverse, and socially engaged field.” I also currently am on the Classics Inclusion Committee at Holy Cross, which upholds those same values. Classics has long been considered a very niche subject, but this doesn’t have to be the case: with enough effort, Classics can become open to all who wish to study it. Simply giving up and saying that students of color are at a disadvantage at becoming successful Classicists is plain wrong and, frankly, offensive. If the Classics department at Princeton University, one of the “best” universities in the entire world, does not truly believe in their students’ intellectual abilities—and their desire to step up to the challenge of fully immersing themselves in these ancient languages—how are the students expected to believe in themselves?
Rash decisions made on the presumption of “inclusivity” (while actually being the very antithesis to real and more expansive inclusion) will undoubtedly lead to the death of Classics in the classroom… and it may well arrive sooner than you think.