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Amy Richlin

University of California at Los Angeles


            In response to Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s call for serious change in our self-constitution to reflect changes in the present and future student body, Classics can look to our postbacc programs.  After an historical overview, I will focus on my home institution, UCLA, especially during my time as postbacc director (2011-). 

            We draw largely from the west coast, with some adventurous souls from the Midwest and occasionally from overseas (from China to Russia).  All postbacc programs attract students who want to build strengths; our students often show some or all of the following characteristics:  first generation in college; switch from a major more acceptable to immigrant parents, like bioengineering; undergraduate experience that began at community college and worked its way upward through the echelons of the state university system; working full time alongside schoolwork; trained in a tiny program where they were often the only student in the class; undocumented, or living amongst the undocumented. 

            As a first-generation student myself, I feel kinship with this group, and aim to speak with them on the basis of shared experience.  Also, because I speak at all kinds of schools all around the country, I am mindful that placement must aim at all kinds of outcome – that there are multiple worlds out there that a new PhD or MA could walk into.  Our students have often seen the non-elite end of things; they know what that’s about.  I also always promote K-12 teaching, as better paid and offering the opportunity to choose where you live.  Like many in the profession, I try to maintain a relationship with local K-12 teachers, something I hope is true across the board at graduate departments.  Our students – usually in groups of ten per year – form deep bonds of friendship, which I am happy to follow over the years as they support each other along the way.

            At the same time, due to the lack of any curricular change ever in the blue-collar town where I grew up, I had the advantage of a very old-fashioned classical education from the age of eleven onwards.  The postbacc seminar I teach every fall aims to fill in the large gaps in basic, taken-for-granted tradecraft that few postbaccs have ever heard of before:  what is an apparatus criticus, what are the figures of rhetoric, what is meter, who wrote the dictionary.  By the end of the course, they have it down; nobody leaves the course without an 87 or better on the sight meter test, they just keep taking re-tests until they can do it.  Classical education survived from the age of Charlemagne until (just barely) today through the continuous oral transmission of these basics, and as long as we keep filling that gap and hungry students show up to have it filled, Classics will survive.

            But UCLA is only one program, and a small one.  A look at our new page of graduates will show how far we have gone towards meeting Dan-el’s challenge: Take a look, and guess which one of these students waited tables 40 hours a week while she spent two years with us; guess which one threw boxes for UPS fulltime, on the side.  Pathei mathos.  This is what they bring to their future students.  What we need is funded postbaccs, because there are more students out there who write me, every year, and they want to come, but not only can’t they afford to add another $10K to their student debt, they can’t afford not to work fulltime.  The University of Michigan’s bridge MA is a start. 

            I once asked a postbacc in my intermediate Latin class if he didn’t feel his brain expanding; he answered, “I feel like my brain has been replaced.”  I was pleased; but we don’t replace their hearts.  They bring those with them, and take them out into the world.

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Classics Graduate Education in the 21st Century

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