Over the past months the Covid Crisis and horrific incidents of racist, especially anti-Black, violence have exposed anew the systemic inequities of our society. These tragedies demand that we reaffirm our commitment to diversity and equity within our field and add our voice to those calling for an anti-racist, just society for ourselves, our students and, indeed, for all.
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. 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.” So great a fan was Witherspoon of the Roman orator and politician that he named his nearby estate—where he regularly hosted George and Martha Washington after purchasing two enslaved people as farm-hands—Tusculum. This statue is no artifact of the distant past: it was erected in 2001.
Mindful of this history’s reverberations down to the contemporary moment, our efforts in the Classics Department have advanced and will continue to advance the following three objectives:
1) To protect students, staff, and faculty from discrimination in their academic and professional lives: this includes discrimination experienced on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, and all other protected characteristics. To educate faculty, staff, and students about the manifestations of systemic racism (including implicit bias) and its consequences for members of our community and to provide support for those directly suffering from them. To work closely with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and highlight University resources on Sexual Misconduct and Title IX, and those provided by Inclusive Princeton.
Information regarding resources and options (including reporting options) for those who have experienced sexual misconduct is available at https://sexualmisconduct.princeton.edu/. Such individuals are encouraged to consult with confidential resources, including the SHARE (Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising Resources and Education) Office. Please note that faculty and staff within the Classics department (as well as all faculty and staff excluding specifically designated confidential resources) are required to report suspected sexual misconduct to the Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration; more information regarding these obligations is available here.
If you have concerns or complaints involving identity-based bias and discrimination that require action on the part of the University, please communicate them via [email protected]. Information for anyone who has experienced or witnessed identity-based bias, discrimination or harassment may be found at https://inclusive.princeton.edu/addressing-concerns/bias-discrimination-harassment.
2) To create opportunities for the advancement of students and (future) colleagues from historically underrepresented backgrounds within the discipline, for example through our pre-doctoral fellowship program. To widen the reach of our courses by continuing to teach through the Princeton Prison Teaching Initiative and by establishing lasting connections with public high schools, particularly in underserved areas. To make the most of our increasingly diverse faculty and student body, by ensuring that a broad range of perspectives and experiences inform our study of the ancient Greek and Roman past.
3) To articulate a clear, forward-looking, and inclusive vision for our field. Once devoted to the appreciation of Greece and Rome as exemplary cultures (often seen in what was perceived to be their “splendid isolation”), classicists now study a broad range of synchronic and diachronic relationships and pay close attention to exclusions. In terms of synchronic relationships, we investigate, for example, how ideas and forms of expressions circulated between Greece, Egypt, and the Near East; to what extent the Romans and their North African enemies shared the same cultural models; how ancient people related to the natural and built environment; and how the beginnings of literature compare across the world. In terms of diachronic perspectives, we investigate, using a variety of theoretical frameworks, how classical texts have been transmitted and received in later cultures. We specifically consider how the cultures of Greece and Rome have been instrumentalized, and have been complicit, in various forms of exclusion, including slavery, segregation, white supremacy, Manifest Destiny, and cultural genocide. The developments briefly outlined here – that is to say: interdisciplinary expansion, diachronically and synchronically, and self-scrutiny in terms of historical exclusions – inform not only our research but our undergraduate and graduate curriculum, starting with our new gateway course What is a Classic?, which will be taught for the first time in Spring 2020-21.
We are committed to these aims as part of our professional as well as civic responsibilities, in the recognition that the study of the classical past and its impact on the modern world depends for its vitality on attracting outstanding scholars from all backgrounds and on asking questions of the past that respond to the circumstances of the present. We recognize that no academic institution or discipline is an island: for this reason, we actively seek to foster and strengthen ties with other disciplinary units in the University that advance the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Department of African American Studies, the Freshman Scholars Institute, and the Scholars Institute Fellows Program. 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. We are committed to improving on our ongoing efforts to promote equity, but we recognize that any progress will require broad participation and full investment on the part of our community. We pledge to collaborate with and learn from all who have demonstrated their commitment to this work.
The specific mission of the department’s Committee on Equity and Inclusion is to advise the department on how its practices and policies relate to the aims of promoting equity within and beyond our community. We invite all components of the department—undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff—to reflect and advise us on how we present the classical past to students and foster the careers of future teachers and scholars, and to help us identify ways to foster the broadest possible range of perspectives on the ancient past. The department as a whole can turn to the committee for counsel on issues of equity and diversity: committees, for example, are invited to consult it on how planned changes to its programs, or other initiatives, might impact members of our community unfairly. The committee can, in turn, report concerns that relate to equity back to the department. We also organize events that can help all of us understand the effects of structural racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and how best to combat them in our professional lives. We are not equipped or empowered to investigate specific complaints relating to equity, but we can direct students and faculty of the department to the university entities that are so empowered and to the range of resources available for fighting and redressing discrimination at Princeton.
The Department of Classics seeks proposals for projects led by students or arising out of faculty-student collaborations in line with departmental diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. To submit a proposal, please complete the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Projects form.
If you would like to leave suggestions, which will reach us in anonymous form, for how we can advance our efforts, please do so here.