Volume 80, Issue 15
February 13, 2009

WC Students Rally for Classics Classes

By Emily Pelland

Elm Staff Writer

Enjoy a good epic story about war and victory? How about one with a ton of blood and adventure? Want to know the origin of certain words or phrases? There has recently been a great endeavor by students to bring back the Classics to WC, and many members of the faculty have provided a great deal of support to the proposal. Rich Keidel, Mary DiAngelo, and Josh Ackerman have been strong proponents in the endorsement. All of whom are in Professor Walsh’s Latin class.

“The study of Latin and Greek help us to better understand academia as a whole,” said freshman Rich Keidel. Latin and Greek, “side by side will improve WC academics for students.” He wants to carry on the tradition of the historians and poets.

“I believe that students should be immersed in Latin and Greek. The Classics are the essence of Western civilization and reverberate to the era of today.”

Junior Mary DiAngelo, who admits to being a “grammar nerd,” enjoys the structural aspect of Latin and learning the roots of English words.

“I think it’s really important to know where your language came from. It’s interesting; it gives a whole new meaning [to English].” Courses in the Classics would allow students to step away from the linguistic aspect also by discussing and debating issues presented in the stories, so students are not “up to your elbows in gerunds.” DiAngelo adds, “So much of what we do now is a reproduction of the Roman Empire.” She points out the practicality of taking Latin: “It helps no matter what your major is. Everyone speaks English here.”

The real pioneer has been senior Josh Ackerman. (You may recall receiving an email petition from him). He has been trying to approach the administration about adding the Classics as patiently and “politely as possible, with a certain degree of character.” He understands that this is a sensitive time economically. “The Administration has been fantastic. They are doing everything they can to listen to us.” Because he would not be able to benefit from any future courses added to the curriculum, it is evident how strongly he feels about the significance of the Classics and how they will impact students and remain with them well into the future.

“It’s important to imitate these models, [...] but use them to find your voice.”

“There’s something to the schools that have the Classics,” said Ackerman.

“They’re more distinguished when they have a strong program. It intensifies the rigor of the curriculum.”

Beyond petitioning, the best way for students to exhibit serious and consistent interest about adding the Classics, and eventually creating a minor, would be to take existing classes relating to the subject. Until more classes are added, there is an opportunity to learn a bit more about the Classics. The Mirania Club has been created by students and faculty fervent about the studies of Latin and Greek and desire to promote the Classics. No worries— you don’t have to be any sort of wiz or fanatic about the Classics to join.

“[The Mirania Club] is the first time that I’ve seen students and faculty connect like this. We’re working together for a common goal,” said Ackerman.

Mirania is based on William Smith’s The General Idea of the College of Mirania about how he believes colleges should be operated. In English, Mirania can translate to “a wonderful place,” and is derived from the Latin word mirus which means “wonderful.” Look— first Latin lesson!

“The Classics have been models of instruction for living,” Ackerman said. “I want to go deeper into them, to find the truth that we’re looking for.”

In addition to these students, several professors have been a great help to them and the proposal to the administration. Professor Walsh, Latin and English professor, has been impressed by the student involvement and offered aid to ardent students. “The Classics prepare the mind to think critically and deeply. Students would have to think about issues and ideas that are unfamiliar,” and most of all, they will enhance a “great intellectual curiosity, which will serve no matter what career. It also disciplines the mind.” Walsh stressed how the Classics bring a unique opportunity that relate to language studies, history, literature, andphilosophy, which are the roots of our civilization.

Professor Krochmal, of the Department of Biology and SGA advisor, was trained in Classics as an undergraduate. He states that it contributes to the development for strong arguments. The Classics are the cornerstone of a liberal arts education and embody everything specified in the WC mission statement.

What do Latin and Greek have to do with biology? Krochmal uses his own metaphor: “You can’t ask the dead animal any questions, just as you can’t ask a dead Greek god anything either. With the ancient Greeks long gone, we have to rely on indirect analyses to learn of their art, culture, politics, etc. The Classics provide the skill to “integrate multiple pieces of data in order to come to a conclusion.”

As SGA advisor, Professor Krochmal hears firsthand the desire for new courses. “There was a huge interest from students and when students want a curriculum change, there should be a curriculum change.”

Professor Michael Harvey, Chair for the Department of Business Management, also offered a great deal of enthusiasm. “I think this is one of the most important initiatives the college could undertake. The true value of a liberal arts education is measured not merely by whether it gives young people the intellectual tools and habits of inquiry to succeed and lead in the modern world,” writes Harvey, “but also by whether it helps students understand that they are part of a long tradition of fearless inquiry and civic engagement. Asking questions and questioning the answers is at the heart of the education Washington College offers--and it is also, not incidentally, at the heart of the classic tradition. A strong classics program is an essential part of a first-rate liberal-arts college.”

On the other hand, Professor Pears, head of the Department of Modern Languages, offered a reasonable perspective to the issue.

“To have a real Classics major or minor, we need a department,” said Pears, “to do it right. In other colleges, it’s usually an entity of itself. But I think it’s a great idea.” Pears has also heard an interest from students for more modern languages, and small colleges can only provide so much for what they can handle. “It’s a start, but the ultimate goal is having a separate department.”

The intensity of support for the Classics has been overwhelming, and personally, I hope that the Mirania Club will erupt and create campus-wide vigor for the “old dead guy’s stories in dead languages.” It is incredibly important to observe our past and to understand our origins we only impair ourselves intellectually and creatively without the knowledge of what has passed and still affects us, like the relationship between an individual and society, and the relationship between men and women.

Professor Harvey said, “When we start seeing Socrates and Confucius on t-shirts around campus, we’ll know that we’ve taken a big step forward as a college.”

Want to learn more or express interest? Contact Josh Ackerman at jackerman2@washcoll.edu