skip to content

The Open Letter on anti-racism sent to the Faculty Board of Classics in August 2020 made a number of requests relating to the full range of what the Faculty of Classics does and is responsible for. As was indicated in the response to the letter in October, these requests were referred to the relevant Committees of the Faculty and discussed in Open Meetings with undergraduate and postgraduate bodies. The Faculty Board issued a statement in December outlining its commitment to race equality ( It is now in a position to respond more fully. The following takes each of the Open Letter’s points in turn. An action plan outlining details of the Faculty’s strategy is appended.

Classics and racism: past and present
The academic study of Greek and Latin texts has had a privileged position in European élite education ever since the Renaissance – variously sharing that position with the study of Christian theology and of mathematics. Only in the later part of the nineteenth century was the study of Greek and Roman material culture added to the study of texts and only in the twentieth century did Classics become but one of a wide range of humanities disciplines taught across higher education. The European élite navigated their way through the world with reference to a relatively small range of Classical and Biblical texts, and deployed them to justify its political decisions, both with regard to governmental arrangements within Europe itself and with regard to its relationship to the wider world. Modern notions of Greek and Roman exceptionalism and exemplarity have played a central role in modern Western colonial discourses. The idealisation of Greece and Rome, and the embedding of that idealisation in education, has featured significantly in the development of modern Western racism.

The testimonies of People of Colour in higher education, both in this country and worldwide, about their experiences of discrimination and micro-aggressions provide clear evidence of the deep and ongoing impact of this racism. Just as Classics has been deployed as an effective weapon to breach the walls of class privilege and gender privilege that it had once been used to reinforce, so it can be and must be used against racism. We welcome the actions taken by classical colleagues across the world, not least by Classicists of Colour, to use Classics effectively to combat racism, and to combat racism within Classics. We are deeply committed to these goals and recognise our responsibility to advance them.

We have inherited a world shaped, both for better and for worse, by past decisions. It has become increasingly important to understand in what ways and to what effects Classical texts have been used and abused down to the present day, and in doing so to understand the political implications of our own use of the Greek and Roman past. Cambridge scholars have played a significant role in developing the study of Classical Reception and we aim to continue to be centrally involved in developing this understanding (for a recent Cambridge contribution we note Simon Goldhill’s discussion in BMCR: A degree programme that as a whole fails to acknowledge and discuss how Classical texts have been received and continue to be used perpetuates a false innocence that is both dishonest and anti-intellectual. Critical engagement with the classical tradition, past and present, has long been a central feature of many Part II ‘X’ courses, and in redesigning the Classical Tripos we have sought to be proactive in embedding such discussions in Part I of the Tripos (see further below).

Diversity of representation
The make-up of the undergraduate, postgraduate and academic staff body of the Faculty of Classics variously fail to reproduce the diversity of the UK population in terms of class, gender and ethnicity. We have long attempted to make up for the class and gender discrepancies in opportunities to study Greek in secondary schools by making it possible to study Greek in the Classics degree without having studied it at school. For the past two decades we have made a 4-year version of the degree possible in order also to accommodate those who have had no prior experience of Latin. Numbers on this degree course have been steadily rising and the Faculty is seeking further expansion in the future. The statistics available to us concerning undergraduate and postgraduate applicants do not offer the intersectional data that is necessary if we are properly to understand where the problems and issues lie, and do not allow the fine-grained distinctions that we would like to make. It is the Faculty’s intention to hold the University to account for making appropriate data more readily available going forwards. Such data as we have indicate that during the decade 2010–2019 inclusive 14.4% (160 of 1109) of applicants for the 3-year degree and 20.6% (56 of 272) of applicants for the 4-year degree identified as BAME. Offer rates and admissions rates for BAME students have been slightly higher than for white students for the 3-year degree, but lower for the 4-year degree. In 2019 the proportion of BAME students reading the 3-year Classics degree as undergraduates was 16.7% and the proportion reading the 4-year Classics degree was 23.8%.  

The Faculty’s Athena SWAN Bronze Award action plan commits the Faculty to organising an annual BAME Open Day and to reducing the gap between white and BAME offer and acceptance rates for the 4-year degree. As part of our efforts to do this we have added “Diversity in the Greek and Roman Worlds” to our videos on our outreach site (‘The Greeks, Romans and Us’) and have extended our collaboration with Khameleon productions to produce further resources aimed to dispel the image of Classics as a ‘white’ subject and to tackle the category of whiteness problematically attributed to and partly derived from the ancient world. In addition to the Douglas Cashin Bursary scheme, the Faculty has recently attracted some very generous benefactions, totalling over £100,000, and which have achieved widespread publicity, and we are now able to offer targeted support to 4-year degree students from underrepresented groups.

At the postgraduate level, during the 4 years preceding the current year we received 279 PhD applications of which 39 (14%) were from BAME candidates; we made 177 offers (19 (10.7%) to BAME candidates) and admitted 69 PhD students (7 (10.1%) BAME). In the same period we received 513 MPhil applications, of which 98 (19.1%) were from BAME candidates; we made 285 offers (52 (18.2%) to BAME candidates) and admitted 161 MPhil students (30 (18.6%) BAME). BAME applicants therefore apply for the MPhil and PhD in a similar proportion to their numbers in the undergraduate programme, but since postgraduate applications are drawn from the world over, we might expect to attract a higher proportion (given the uneven geographical distribution of training in Classics across the globe it is hard to work out what we should expect). We are developing a new Masters-level degree which would offer greater linguistic training in Latin and Greek than we are currently able to do, so as to open up postgraduate work in Classics to a wider constituency, and we will review how we represent our postgraduate degrees more generally with a view to making them more attractive to a more diverse range of applicants.

The Faculty academic staff have become significantly more diverse in the past two decades, but this diversity has not extended to ethnicity. For the six permanent appointments made since 2014 we have received 164 applications, 7 (4.2%) of which were from applicants identifying themselves as BAME; all appointees have been white. Part of what these figures show is that there is a constriction in the academic pipeline, with the proportion of BAME applicants for academic positions significantly lower than the proportion of BAME PhD students. It is crucial to promote the Faculty as an attractive and positive place for everyone, including those from ethnic minority groups, so as to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants. The School of Arts and Humanities has been reviewing recruitment procedures and, in common with other Faculties in the School, we will scrutinise the ways in which we advertise to attempt to ensure maximally diverse applicant pools, and in the event of not achieving sufficient diversity among applicants will reconsider the parameters of the advertisement before proceeding to appointment. The Faculty for its part has agreed that it will pursue a strategy of advertising job vacancies broadly, in terms of subject specialism, where academic need allows, so as to maximise the diversity of candidates attracted.

Environment and Training
We are well aware that we need not simply to attract more diverse students and academic staff to apply but also to ensure that they have a positive experience once here and we are committed to ongoing dialogue with the undergraduate and postgraduate students to develop induction events and cultural practices that will help students from underrepresented groups feel welcome in the Faculty environment. Annual meetings with the student body and an annual equality, diversity and inclusion survey are planned to facilitate ongoing communication. The University provides a variety of training and development courses for academic staff in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion. All academic staff are expected to be trained in equality and diversity essentials and in implicit bias, and the University has enhanced its training in race awareness and in issues related to bullying and harassment of all sorts. The Faculty of Classics recognises that to be effective such training is best addressed to the specific situation within a particular Faculty and Department and is therefore planning a training event before the beginning of the next academic year for all academic staff which will address issues of racism, whether structural, systemic or cultural. It also recognises that there can be no quick fix and that these issues require ongoing engagement and that this must be only the beginning of a programme of events aimed at continuing the conversation about these issues within the Faculty. It expects to offer further training with regard to Faculty culture to postgraduate students as part of future induction for MPhil and PhD students.

The Faculty welcomes the prompt to consider further the nature of the curriculum. In the context of reforming the Prelim, Part IA and Part IB years, the Faculty has aimed both to increase diversity of assessment and flexibility of choice, and to draw attention to issues of the historic, and contemporary, place of Classics in the world through a bespoke lecture course and through optional questions in the Tripos. The proposed new structure will allow options focused on Classical Reception to be introduced at the IB as well as the Part II level, and we hope that it will also in future allow a wider range of combinations with other Tripos subjects. Noting the harm that exclusionary language can do, the Faculty will be reviewing all course materials, including course titles. In the MPhil choice of topics for essays and theses rests with candidates, but the Postgraduate Studies Committee has oversight of the range of MPhil seminars given, and diversity considerations inform its discussions. The Education Committee has explicitly encouraged those designing courses to reflect a diverse and inclusive range of approaches to and perspectives on their subject in their bibliography. With regard to texts and subjects that raise issues that individual students or groups of students might find difficult, the Faculty has committed to drawing attention to these in advanced publicity for courses, as well as on the occasions when they are explicitly discussed in lectures, while recognising that there will be occasions when the spontaneity of the teaching exchange brings up such subjects without advanced warning. Attention will be drawn to these issues in supervisor training with the aim that on such occasions such subjects will be treated with sensitivity.


The Faculty's action plan is available here.


Latest news

Language Teaching Assistant

25 July 2021

Details of how to apply for this part time teaching post are now avilable online . Deadline Monday 23rd August 2021.

Open letter on anti-racism: a response from the Faculty Board of Classics

16 July 2021

The response to the Open Letter on anti-racism, together with an action plan outlining the Faculty’s strategy, is now available online. Read here for more details

Martin Millett elected as President of the Society of Antiquaries of London

7 July 2021

Professor Martin Millett FBA, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, has been elected as President of the Society of Antiquaries of London (2021-24). Founded in 1707, the Society of Antiquaries of London is an educational charity that promotes the understanding of the human past and...

Classics student Lylaah Bhalerao receives a Fulbright Award

5 July 2021

Classics MPhil student Lylaah Bhalerao (Murray Edwards 2017), has received an All Disciplines Fulbright Award to enable her to study at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. Lylaah has been selected from a strong applicant pool to pursue doctoral research into how to decolonise ancient...