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Classics as a discipline and departments of Classics have both historic and current problems regarding diversity and racism. We outline here how we understand those problems, and what we are trying to do about them.

In line with the University’s Race Equality Plan for Action, the Faculty of Classics is committed to a comprehensive review of its practices and culture, so as to achieve a fully inclusive environment.

Classics and racism: the past
The academic study of Greek and Latin texts has had a privileged position in European élite education since the Renaissance. 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.

Critical engagement with the classical tradition, past and present, has long been a central feature of many Part II ‘X’ courses. In our plans to revise Part I of the Tripos we will build into the education of all undergraduates reading Classics an understanding of how Classics has been studied and used in the past and of how the past shapes what Classics is today.

As a way of understanding how past approaches to Classics have shaped our own immediate environment, we have introduced new information into our Museum to draw attention to some of the ways in which historic biases within Classical studies have shaped the Classical world that is available for us to put on display today.

Classics and racism: the present
The testimonies of People of Colour in Classics and in higher education more broadly, both in this country and worldwide,  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 colleagues across the world to use Classics effectively to combat racism, and to combat racism within Classics. We are committed to these goals and recognise our responsibility to advance them. We have devoted time and energy to listening to all who wish to speak about their experiences, and in gathering more precise data.

To this end, 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 attributed to and partly derived from the ancient world. We shall continue to work to develop new ways of acknowledging the experiences and amplifying the voices of people of colour within our field.

Those designing courses are explicitly encouraged to reflect a diverse and inclusive range of approaches to and perspectives on their subject in the courses themselves and in their scholarly bibliographies.

Diversity of representation
The demography of the undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Faculty of Classics does not match the diversity of the wider UK student population. 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%. We have long attempted to make up for discrepancies in opportunities to study Latin and Greek in secondary schools by making it possible to study the Classics degree without having studied either language at school and we are working further to promote the 4-year Classics degree. In addition, we are organising an annual BAME Open Day and have stepped up our efforts to raise funds to support 4-year degree students from underrepresented groups.

BAME applicants apply for the MPhil and PhD in a similar proportion to their numbers in the undergraduate programme. We are making changes to the Masters-level degree to offer greater linguistic training in Latin and Greek than we are currently able to do, to open up postgraduate work in Classics to a wider constituency, and are reviewing 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 yet extended to ethnicity. 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. For the future, we seek 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. In the meantime we seek to use invitations to academics elsewhere in order to increase the diversity of backgrounds encountered by our undergraduate and particularly by our postgraduate students.

Environment and Training
We are committed to developing 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. All staff are encouraged to take advantage of the variety of training and development courses in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion. But since, to be effective, training is best addressed to the specific situation in Classics we also hold training events at the Faculty level, and incorporate conversation about these issues into induction sessions for MPhil and PhD students.

The unprecedented dialogue that has now been initiated at the Faculty concerning Classics and racism is detailed, wide-ranging, and already at the heart of our decision-making processes. It is also inclusive. This dialogue has deepened our resolve to enact concrete and positive change.

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