I should like to bring you up to date on the Society’s efforts to encourage the development of a more diverse profession of Classics. It is perhaps appropriate that I write these words in St. Louis, which has become one of the symbols of our nation’s failure to achieve equity in a diverse population. It might also, however, become representative of what can be achieved by people of very different outlooks and interests, working together for the common good. Last night, my daughter attended a meeting of a civic coalition devoted to reforming local governance; it framed its discussions, before an overflow audience, with the question, “Why does a region with world-class resources struggle to thrive?” Social justice groups and the Chamber of Commerce came together around the task of thinking through some practical approaches to fixing the extreme governmental fragmentation that has made St. Louis County notably ineffective in many domains, not least in the justice system.
Mutatis mutandis, a similar question was one of the driving forces behind parts of the reorganization of our Society’s committee structure about which I wrote earlier this year. The creation of a new Committee on Diversity in the Profession was part of our response to this challenge. Although our new bylaws and committee structure officially come into force only in January, I felt we should not wait to get this committee formed and given its charge. It is already at work by email conversation in advance of meeting in Toronto for the first time.
One of the stimuli to the Board’s thinking, and now to the Committee’s work, was an essay sent me by Bob Connor, whose blog on liberal education, begun during his years as president of the Teagle Foundation, is a constant source of ideas and prod to the conscience (http://www.wrobertconnor.com/). Bob challenged the Society to take a more activist and thoughtful approach to the long-standing and persistent underrepresentation of African-Americans in Classics, and without offering a detailed blueprint, he pointed to directions he thought might be most productive and yet within the capabilities of a learned society like ours. This paper will soon be available at Inside Higher Ed. You can read it now here.
We should have no illusions that a small organization like the SCS can solve fundamental problems in American society. But the worst illusion would be that we can’t do anything to make it better. We can, and with your help we will. This matters to all of us, both because a diverse profession will be a better one and, above all, because our classical heritage belongs to all of humanity; it is not the possession of any national or ethnic group, and we should reject any attempt to use it against anyone.