Students at Reed College have been protesting the syllabus of a humanities course for being too “Eurocentric,” and faculty took action last week by making changes to the class.
All students accepted to Reed have to take a class called “Humanities 110,” which is supposed to give new students a foundation in college-level work and different liberal-arts subject areas.
As the Reed College website explains, Humanities 110 is a “primer” for different subjects, such as “history, literature, philosophy, aesthetics, [and] social science—of which the liberal arts are composed.”
The site also states, “The basic principles of the course, and a significant portion of the actual syllabus, have remained largely unchanged over time. For over 60 years, students in Hum 110 have engaged in the study of archaic and classical Greece, focusing on Homer, Hesiod, the lyric poets, the plastic arts (including vase painting, sculpture and architecture), Herodotus, Thucydides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle.”
This is where the left-wing student protesters come in. Since the start of the 2017 school year, students have argued that the course excludes people of color from its required readings.
“The various lectures compose, collectively, a fairly systematic approach to the ancient world of Greece,” the course webpage reads.
An activist group on campus called “Reedies Against Racism” (RAR) argued that the beginner humanities class is “Eurocentric at its core,” and “should not be mandatory until it is reformed to reflect a wider range of cultures or abolished as the foundational course altogether.”
Reedies Against Racism create system for “Whitey Tasks”. pic.twitter.com/sjw5EomxTa
— Reed Free Speech (@Reed_FreeSpeech) October 29, 2017
To appeal to students’ demands, faculty at Reed College decided to make a change to the course syllabus last week. Now, the webpage for the class reads, “Of course, the syllabus has always also included substantial non-Greek materials, but those materials have changed over time.” Humanities 110 will now highlight two new cities: Mexico City and Harlem.
But students still aren’t happy.
The “Reedies Against Racism” group Facebook page published a statement explaining why the faculty’s efforts to make curriculum changes were only “brought about primarily by students of color, faculty of color, and allies. Furthermore, the African and Middle Eastern texts that past Reed activists fought for—including Gilgamesh and the Egyptian love poems—will be cut from the syllabus in exchange for the inclusion of Mexico City and Harlem.”
The group is also dissatisfied with Greek and Roman studies being taught first: “Reed freshmen will still receive the message that learning about white culture is more urgent and foundational to a college education.”
Reedies Against Racism: how can a course on ancient Mediterranean literature be Eurocentric? “Europe” didn’t exist https://t.co/obaROMo9Ka
— Michael Shermer (@michaelshermer) September 23, 2017
“In short, we’re calling for the Humanities 110 faculty to pick different cities from the old syllabus for the first two semesters,” the RAR post continues. “We feel that these cities should be outside of Europe, as reparations for Humanities 110’s history of erasing the histories of people of color, especially black people.”