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Princeton University Nixes Greek and Latin Requirements for Classics Majors

PRINCETON, NJ – Princeton University is eliminating the Greek and Latin requirements for Classics majors, according to the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW). The curriculum changes were approved in April by Princeton faculty for “increased flexibility for concentrators,” in the Classics department and also in religion, PAW reported, noting that changes were also made in the politics department which “added a track in race and identity.”

“In classics, two major changes were made,” PAW reported, adding that “the ‘classics’ track, which required an intermediate proficiency in Greek or Latin to enter the concentration, was eliminated, as was the requirement for students to take Greek or Latin. Students still are encouraged to take either language if it is relevant to their interests in the department. The breadth of offerings remains the same, said Josh Billings, director of undergraduate studies and professor of classics. The changes ultimately give students more opportunities to major in classics.”

“The discussions about these changes predate Eisgruber’s call to address systemic racism at the University, Billings said, but were given new urgency by this and the events around race that occurred last summer,” PAW reported.

“We think that having new perspectives in the field will make the field better,” he said, PAW reported. “Having people who come in who might not have studied classics in high school and might not have had a previous exposure to Greek and Latin, we think that having those students in the department will make it a more vibrant intellectual community.”

The National Review (TNR) cited the Classics Department’s diversity and equity statement which says that the “history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism.”

“Our department is housed in a building named after Moses Taylor Pyne, the University benefactor whose family wealth was directly tied to the misery of enslaved laborers on Cuban sugar plantations,” the statement continues. “This same wealth underwrote the acquisition of the Roman inscriptions that the department owns and that are currently installed on the third floor of Firestone Library. Standing only a few meters from our offices and facing towards Firestone is a statue of John Witherspoon, the University’s slave-owning sixth president and a stalwart anti-abolitionist, leaning on a stack of books, one of which sports the name ‘Cicero.'”

“The department has a four-person equity committee and says it aims to ‘create opportunities for the advancement of students and (future) colleagues from historically underrepresented backgrounds within the discipline,’ which includes ‘ensuring that a broad range of perspectives and experiences inform our study of the ancient Greek and Roman past,’” TNR reported, adding that “the actions we take to promote equity and inclusion will not suffice to protect members of our community from discrimination and the effects of systemic racism – particularly anti-Black racism. For that reason, we end by expressing our solidarity with efforts to achieve equity in our nation and our world.”

“We condemn and reject in the strongest possible terms the racism that has made our department and our field inhospitable to Black and non-Black scholars of color, and we affirm that Black Lives Matter,” the statement reads, TNR reported.

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