I used to think that having reached my third year at college I could no longer be shocked by the wokeness which permeates the university campus, its students and faculty. I thought I would be able to grit my teeth and just bear it.
Up until now I have watched the SU, of which I am a part, represent and promote views, of which I do not wish to be a part. I observed fellow students pass around pictures of a conservative British politician’s daughter at house parties, encouraging each other to harass her, should she be spotted on campus. I quietly switched my undergraduate course after I was forced to declare my PPPs (Preferred Personal Pronouns). Quite the insult if you think about it, for up until that point I had thought I very obviously look like and present as a woman —perhaps the department was encouraging me to focus less on my studies and more on a boob job.
Additionally, I had to justify to my seminar group on why I do not consider myself feminist. What more could possibly surprise me and force me to step out of my role as the silent observer?
Maybe I do not have any right to be composing this rant, especially since I was never brave enough to defend my views in the past. I am ashamed to say that I did not stick up for the aforementioned politician’s daughter at that house party. I did indeed introduce myself with “she/her” pronouns during that seminar. And on one occasion I pretended that my Louder with Crowder mug did not belong to me. But there comes a breaking point for everyone. I no longer wish to resign myself to secretly rolling my eyes, staying silent and walking away. I want to make up for my cowardice in the past, cancel culture be damned.
I study Classics. Not because I am a big history nerd but because I love the ancient languages. Obviously, I understand that ancient history is something that needs to be taught along with those languages. It cannot be left untouched. My department thinks differently. Shockingly so. My department does not merely demand that the history be touched but that it, in fact, be retouched; that it be fiddled with and remade in an image that suits the woke Zeitgeist.
To my horror and disbelief, one of my lecturers announced during a class last year that it is important for us to be “mindful of the decolonisation of the classical world”. This statement alone was not yet enough for me to write this article. In fairness to the lecturer, the statement was ambiguous enough, so I thought. It did not hint at any indoctrination. I even managed to agree with the lecturer, for I also think that we should be “mindful” of this decolonisation (albeit that we should be mindful to avoid it at all costs). But I know that ambiguity was not intended. This became more obvious by the fact that my course was made to read Amy Richlin’s theory about slaves on the Plautine stage.
For balance, we were also encouraged to read and explore Kathleen McCarthy, however, the bias was clear. Richlin was a mandatory part of the curriculum, McCarthy was not. Still, that was not enough to prompt this article. There will always be scholars and historians I do not agree with. College is about exposing one to all manner of opinions, and the curriculum cannot always accommodate these, or we would be reading for the rest of our lives.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came later. It seems this year is the year my department has decided to make itself redundant. They have given a platform, both on their Facebook page and in their classes, to a Classics professor at Princeton University, who during the 2019 meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) stated in relation to the field of Classics, his own field, “that it dies as swiftly as possible”.
Other views held by this professor include the prioritisation of ethnicity over merit, when it comes to the publication of Classics scholars. To quote:
“In practical terms, this means that in an economy of academic prestige defined and governed by scarcity, white men will have to surrender the privilege they have of seeing their words printed and disseminated. They will have to take a back seat, so that people of colour, and women, and gender-non-conforming scholars of colour benefit from the privileges, career and otherwise, of seeing their words on the page.”
Not only was he applauded by the audience for that at the time, but also more recently by my fellow students. Surely, I cannot be the only one who sees the absurdity in this? This, above all, proves to me that there is not as much independent thinking taking place among my fellow students as I hoped there was.
This professor has called for the downfall of a discipline, which my peers are passionate about. Passionate enough to dedicate at least four years of their adult lives to its pursuit. It does not take a Classics expert to see that the department itself should be encouraging its students to pursue the Classics and not to persecute it. Mary Frances Williams was the only person to stand up for the Classics at the SCS, and she was persecuted for it, as she outlined in an article for Quillette. I admire her bravery and can only strive to make as good a case for the Classics.
For me, the girl who shrinks away from confrontation, this task is not without challenges. But this piece of writing is a first step in a new and right (no pun intended) direction. I am tired of hiding my exasperation. And besides, in a world where I attend all of my classes in front of a web-camera, there is no way I can hide my rolling eyes and indignant facial expression. I might as well turn on the microphone as well and give myself a voice.