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A Requiem for Classics

A small liberal arts school in Massachusetts is the latest domino to fall in the attack against the Western tradition.


There’s a well-known saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Many don’t know that the phrase was inspired by a Roman poet named Sextus Aurelius Propertius, who once wrote, Semper in absentes felicior aestus amantes,” “Always toward absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.”

It was a difficult sentiment for me to relate to, visiting my alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross, this past April, nearly a year after my graduation.


Walking through the halls of the place I had called home for four years, I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling of unfamiliarity. Of course, reuniting with old friends was more than enjoyable, and reminiscing on the past had its moments. Yet I knew things were massively different. 

Since my departure in May 2023, the classics department at Holy Cross has imploded. Once revered as “one of the largest and most active undergraduate programs in the country,” Holy Cross has become just the latest victim of dangerous DEI groupthink. In the name of “inclusivity” and “diversity,” decades-old standards have been done away with for more “accessibility” and “equity.”

The trend arguably began in 2021, when Princeton made the news for dropping classics majors’ language requirements. The “classics” track of the major was eliminated altogether (which required intermediate proficiency in either Latin or Greek to enter) and the general requirement of taking Greek or Latin was removed. These changes were reportedly instituted in order to create a more “inclusive” and “equitable” program of study, according to the members of the department.

As John McWhorter of the Atlantic wrote at the time, “This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.” Yet other universities have since followed suit, emboldened by Princeton. Howard University, one of the largest historically black colleges in America, actually dissolved its classics department in 2021. Holy Cross has now officially joined the loser club.


When I started college in 2019, I already thought the requirements to be a classics major were too skimpy. Back then, Holy Cross required eight courses in Latin and Ancient Greek (getting up to the advanced level in one and at least the intermediate level in another), along with two “culture classes” in order to graduate with a major in classics. 

According to some ancient lore shared by a professor when I was a junior, the department had, once upon a time, also required survey courses in both Greek and Roman history—one was taught in the fall, the other in the spring each year. However, after co-education was introduced in 1972, the professors in the department felt as if they needed to extend a more welcoming hand to women interested in the classics major. Over time, the history courses that apparently “appealed to straight, white men” were dropped, and, by the time I got there, had disappeared from the course catalog altogether. 

But language requirements are different, aren’t they? One could argue that straight-up history courses are not necessary for the education of a classics major (it’s a wrong argument, but one that could be made), but a classics major without a strong grasp of ancient Greek and Latin is like a Spanish major who doesn’t speak Spanish or a French major who is unable to read French. 

Rumors that Holy Cross would change the major requirements have been floating around since the pandemic. I used to joke with friends that every year we grew closer to becoming the “Ancient Mediterranean Studies Department.” That joke doesn’t seem particularly funny anymore.

Language courses were arguably the most difficult to teach in a virtual classroom. When translations exist online and student accountability is out the window, it is almost impossible to hold students to the same standards as in person. Thus, the gateway was opened for the institution of a “completion-based” grading system throughout many introductory-level language courses. This system essentially allowed students to have second chances on homework assignments, quizzes, and tests. If they made a mistake the first time around, the professor would write which questions needed to be corrected and the student could try again. Additionally, most assignments became take-home and open book, making it much easier to avoid memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules—difficult but important stepping stones to translating advanced texts.

Then came the cries of oppression. Trigger warnings were instituted in various upper-level seminars (such as for mentions of slavery, excuse me, “enslavement”), homework assignments became suggestions rather than demands, and students were allowed to skip class without question if they felt “uncomfortable” engaging with the day’s material. A minority of students claimed that the texts being taught in upper-level seminars were not diverse enough and that secondary literature projecting a modern-day lens on the ancient world should have a larger role in seminar courses. 

A new club perverting the Latin phrase SPQR was established, “Spectrum of [neuro]diversity, People of color, and Queerness Reimagined” (rather than Senatus Populusque Romanus), as “a safe space for students fascinated by Classics that also want to see their own identities explored,” according to its inaugural email. Professors implored students to attend, even if they just fit the category of “ally.”

Student-faculty dinners to “facilitate discussions” on the conundrums facing the department became commonplace in the final months of my senior year. Professors all of a sudden had become apologetic. Rather than defending the classics, the field of study they chose to spend their lives studying and teaching, they decided just to let it die.

Rumors turned into reality in the fall of 2023, when the department officially told students that a rehaul of the language requirements for the classics major was in the works. The news sparked intense outrage, and students came together to write a letter in protest. The letter, shared with The American Conservative, was signed by 23 students (more than half of current majors) and was also supported by a large network of alumni. An excerpt from the letter reads: 

Languages are the lifeblood of this department. It is incredibly important to develop proficiency in both Greek and Latin to acquire familiarity with the Classical world. The amount of cultural nuance that an original text loses by being translated is impossible to quantify in such a short piece of writing… Students should be encouraged to take as much Latin and Greek as possible. 

Students organized meetings with professors to relay how devastating the decision to lower the language requirement would be. None of it was taken seriously. According to a student who spoke to TAC under conditions of anonymity, a professor was heard in the hallway of the department laughing at how silly it was that students expected to have a say in the process. 

In the spring semester, the classics department faculty voted to make the curriculum change permanent. According to students present at this vote, the option to keep the curriculum the same as before was not even on the table. The department voted for the following new requirements: 11 courses, including three “CLAS” or “culture” courses, three courses in one language, two courses in another language, and three miscellaneous other courses. Additionally, the classics department would now offer courses in other Near Eastern languages such as Hebrew and Ugaritic.

Current students have the option of continuing their major requirements uninterrupted, but the class of 2028 and onwards will be subject to the new rules. Enrollment in advanced seminars, especially in ancient Greek, is already dwindling due to widespread apathy among students towards their professors and course options. 

I decided to speak to a few current students to get a better grasp of how they are navigating this new, “more equitable” environment.

A rising junior at the college interested in pursuing a graduate degree in classics wrote:

The most unfortunate consequence of the new curriculum change has been the loss of the spring advanced Greek seminar, a class which many of us students have a strong desire to take. This is especially tough in light of the fact that for several years the Classics Department has not offered courses in Greek and Roman history. When I first applied to Holy Cross, I was told that the Classics Department was the strongest in the country, and now for the first time in the history of Holy Cross, advanced Greek will not run. 

Alexandra Berardelli, a rising senior and devoted classics student, wrote: 

Without going through the process of learning either Latin or Greek to the proficiency level, the student might as well study history or literature. Time and time again, what makes Classics students better thinkers is this critical training in the language, not mere knowledge of history and culture. Under the new curriculum, a student who wishes to pursue higher degrees in the Classics may have new difficulties. Most graduate programs require a supreme degree of proficiency and excellence in Latin and ancient Greek. With decreased emphasis and requirements of the languages, students will not be considered as highly competitive applicants for such programs. 

All of the students say they have been made to feel as if their professors and Holy Cross as an institution think they are unable to handle difficult subjects. Students also doubt these changes will make the department more welcoming to diverse students. After all, what kind of “diverse groups” is the department realistically trying to appeal to at a small, New England, liberal arts, Jesuit school that is over 70 percent white

As one of the aforementioned anonymous students told TAC, “The quality of education has rapidly decreased, and students are no longer challenged to rise to high standards because the standards set by professors are so low. We are becoming extremely satisfied with mediocrity.”

Why should ordinary Americans care about the downfall of a small Jesuit school in Worcester, Massachusetts? 

I recently attended a conversation between Jeffrey Rosen, president of the National Constitution Center, and Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, at the CATO Institute on Rosen’s new book, The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America. 

Rosen argued that studying classical virtue is essential for self-mastery and the pursuit of true happiness. Using the past as a guide for the present was why the founders studied classical figures and events. Rosen pointed to the example of Julius Caesar: “The reason they founded the constitution to slow down deliberation is because they think, unless citizens can find virtuous self-mastery and can overcome factious emotions like anger and greed and avarice, they’ll succumb to demagogues. And Caesar will come in on horseback, offering cheap luxuries in exchange for liberty.”

Poliakoff suggested studying classics helps us to answer age-old questions such as “What does it mean to be a human being? How do we make ourselves better?” He likened those who decry the classics as racist to witch hunters “taking people to the stake instead of opening up the dialogue.” He added, “Of course the classics are not racist. They get us to quintessential human truths.”

The slow but steady demise of classics in the West serves as a microcosm of a wider problem spreading throughout our globalist world—a refusal to come to terms with and appreciate the lessons of history. The witch hunters calling students racists for appreciating Latin and ancient Greek are ironically like the Caesar the founders feared all along. 

The path ahead for the survival of the Western tradition seems dire. But for every Caesar, let’s hope there is a Brutus to stand in his way.