Last month Howard University in Washington, DC announced plans to eliminate its classics department. I myself believe that it would be best if most classicists were employed in other academic departments, such as history, Romance languages, linguistics, art history, etc., so as to make them intellectually accountable to a larger field than the echo chamber of classics. But Howard is the only HBCU with a classics department, and given the important role that the classics played in the education of, for example, Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois, not to mention its role in modern white supremacy narratives, I think that if any school needs a classics department it’s Howard.
In an interview with NPR, Dr. Anika Prather made an interesting suggestion which I think is a brilliant way to deal with Howard’s specific concerns and a good model for classics departments more generally. She suggested creating a department encompassing Africana studies, philosophy and classics that “continues this focused study of classics within the narrative of the Black experience.” I think this is a wonderful idea that would build on Howard’s strengths and put the classicists teaching there in a more meaningful setting than a traditional classics department would provide.