As Arum Park has recently written about, a number of new initiatives at Princeton University and the University of Michigan have sought to diversify and support the field of Classics, particularly for students of color transitioning from undergraduate to graduate study. However, such initiatives can and should start much earlier. When students’ impression of Latin is that it is for white, affluent people, and that impression is reinforced by the demographic of the Latin program, lack of diversity becomes a self-perpetuating problem that spills over into postsecondary Classics departments and the field as a whole. Diversification efforts must start with the first levels of Latin in middle school and high school.
Last year the Classical Studies Department at the University of Michigan announced the launch of its Bridge MA, a fully funded program designed to prepare scholars from diverse backgrounds for entry into one of Michigan’s Ph.D. programs in Classical Studies or related fields. There are few programs like it, particularly at public universities. One of its architects, Professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe, recently received a competitive award for her diversity efforts. I connected with her along with Dr.
Princeton University’s Department of Classics has launched a new pre-doctoral fellowship for promising young Classicists who would contribute to the diversity of the University. Premised on a recognition that access to Classics is not equitable, the fellowship provides both preparation for and admission to Princeton’s Ph.D. program. I reached out to Professors Michael Flower and Dan-el Padilla Peralta to learn more about the concerns and conversations that gave birth to this fellowship. Below is our exchange, lightly edited for clarity.
In the 6th century CE, a Scythian monk named Dionysius Exiguus was sent to Rome. Dionysius may have taken the monastic nickname of "the small" (exiguus), but his humility sheathed both his incredible abilities as a translator of Greek and Latin and his mathematical skills. He wrote and translated numerous saints lives, transcribed debates on heresies, and was known for his work with canon law. However, what Dionysius would be remembered for was his modifications to the dating system used within the Church and his attempts to use tables, called a computus, in order to track the date of Easter.
In the thirteen years I have been active as an independent scholar, I have learned that the independent scholar is in effect the mirror of an independent scholarly readership composed of individuals who are dedicated consumers of scholastic literature without being either presently matriculated students or academics themselves. I have come to believe that we cannot speak of the genuine flourishing of independent scholarship without taking this into account.