Some students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, are decrying a mandatory freshman-level literature course focused on the works of the Greco-Roman leaders whose thinking paved the way for western civilization.
The problem with the class: It’s just too white.
Humanities 110, which covers “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean,” introduces students to the works of oft-celebrated Greco-Roman thinkers like Aristotle, Ovid, Epictetus, and Plato, The College Fix reported.
For decades, the private college has required students to take the class, but now a group of students, who call themselves Reedies Against Racism, are demanding that the curriculum be “reformed to represent the voices of people of color.”
During many of the lecture sessions throughout the school year, as professors led discussions on “The Rise of Rome” and “The Nature of Things,” student protesters sat or stood in the lecture halls, hoisting signs with the messages, “I am more than a way to get federal funding,” and “We cannot be erased,” scrawled on them.
Some students, The College Fix noted, would even put tape across their mouths to signify they are being silenced by the study of Greco-Roman literature.
The outspoken minorities protesting has apparently been so prominent, the college decided to review the course this year. The result of that review, and any potential changes to the course, could be announced sometime this summer.
“The current humanities course focuses on the classical world in its ancient Mediterranean context; this has not always been the case and the faculty differ on how important they think this focus is to the course,” Kevin Myers, a spokesman for Reed, told The College Fix.
“Among other questions, the review will consider the focus for the next iteration of the course,” he continued. “Regardless of its content, the main emphasis of the humanities course is for students to develop the skills that will help them succeed in their classes at Reed and their lives after graduation.”
Reed student Addison Bates is among those leading the charge to see the course erased. She said she has been motivated by the college’s low black student population and graduation rate. Bates sees the mandatory class as evidence Reed has failed to commit to diversity because the curriculum requires students to study works by white authors.
Bates said Reedies Against Racism want to see literature from outside the “Caucasoid” region incorporated into the class.
As part of the group’s 25 “demands,” the students are calling on the school to understand that “‘foundational texts’ are subjective” and the professors who teach Humanities 110 should be “conscious of the power [the class] gives to already privileged ideas and welcome critique of that use of power.”
The students said they would like to see “alternative readings that critique texts on the current syllabus” incorporated into the course as well as making the class no longer mandatory.
Not everyone shares the radical views espoused by the Reedies, though.
The class aims “to understand the philosophical underpinnings of Western society, and goes a long way towards giving students the context to think through the great problems of government and society themselves,” Zachary Harding, a senior economics major who has taken the course, told The College Fix.
Harding went on to say he doesn’t think the class is about being inclusive but is instead “meant to represent an historically important segment of texts.”
One member of the class of 2016, Aristomenes Spanos, said the class shows the “value in learning the different methods people used to tackle the same problems we deal with today.”
This is not the first time the Reedies have garnered attention, according to The College Fix. Last year, Russian literature professor Marat Grinberg asked the protesting students not to demonstrate during his class because it was disruptive.
Bates said Ginsberg felt “the classroom isn’t the proper place for dissent.” That only served to aggravate Bates and her protesting friends even more.
“We went full force that day he had his lecture, because we wanted to make sure that if a professor said not to represent our opinion, we were going to represent our opinion,” she said.
The protest drew so much attention, they ended up taking over the entire lecture hall, forcing Ginsberg, who was unable to deliver his lecture, to move the class outside, where he continued to teach those willing to follow him.