As an alumna of Howard University, Anika Prather remembers feeling that the classics were everywhere during her years as a student. No matter your major or field of study, she recalled, it was practically a given that classics would be woven into your educational experience.
“My brother was a pre-med student — we both went to Howard — and I remember sitting there seeing him read all types of classics, like we all had to, classics or some work of the canon, but then you’re reading it from a Black perspective,” Dr. Prather said. “It’s really incredible.”
At Howard, the classics department is as old as the university itself. Established in 1867 — the same year that Howard, one of the country’s leading historically Black colleges and universities, was founded — the department became a hub for Black thought, enlightening generations of students about Black people in antiquity.
Dr. Prather, now an adjunct professor of humanities, takes pride in being a part of the department. But she will soon have to leave the position, as the university plans to dissolve the department by the fall semester.
The Washington Post, has galvanized students and faculty members to preserve what the Society for Classical Studies says is the only classics department at an H.B.C.U.
Students in the department have written letters to Anthony K. Wutoh, the university’s provost and chief academic officer, highlighting the importance of classics and the field’s ties to Black history, Dr. Prather said.
Alexandria Frank, a graduating senior at Howard who is minoring in classical civilization, said that dissolving the department and dispersing its classes throughout the university was more than just an administrative reshuffling. The move, she said, would prevent the in-depth study of classics and could inhibit Black students from pursuing the field as scholars.
“That’s a huge pipeline of Black students that are being prevented from entering the academic field for classics,” Ms. Frank said, adding that the move would be detrimental not just “to the students but to the field as a whole, which desperately needs those voices.”
An online petition in support of keeping the department has been signed over 5,000 times. Students have also brought awareness to the situation by using the hashtag “#SaveHUClassics” on their social media accounts.
opinion piece with Jeremy Tate that said the university’s decision had sent “a disturbing message.”
The restructuring and downsizing of the department have been the focus of attention before, Dr. Wutoh said, noting that enrollment numbers within the department had waned over the years.
Following a recommendation from a commission created in 2009 to review the university’s degree programs, Howard stopped offering a classics major. Today, the department offers only minors — in classical civilization, Latin and Greek. Although the department itself will be dissolved in the fall, the university said it intended to continue offering courses and minors that had been taught within the department.
“We obviously believe that the content that we offer in classics is important, but we also must contemporize that teaching with practical application,” Dr. Wutoh said, emphasizing that the university hoped to take a more interdisciplinary approach in teaching classics.
In 2017, the university started another review that examined its academic programs and reviewed them based on metrics such as enrollment and matriculation. Last fall, the university released a report on its findings and recommendations, which included a suggestion to dissolve the classics department because it “does not provide a major course of study, and general education courses may be offered through other departments.”
Dr. Wutoh also listed limited funding, “low enrollment and low student interest” as reasons for the department’s disbandment.