Diversity Statement

Our Commitment to All Our Students

The Department of Classical Languages is committed to supporting and teaching all students, without distinction. The study of the Greco-Roman world is available and appropriate to everyone, and all are welcome in our classes.

In this commitment we agree with the public statements of our national professional organization, the Society for Classical Studies, and our regional organization, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, with the University’s non-discrimination statement, and with Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate. To quote James Powell (below), “when we as a University are truly doing our particular work of reflecting on humanness in all its richness and complexity then we are truly serving humanity.”

Society for Classical Studies

The mission of the Society for Classical Studies is “to advance knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the ancient Greek and Roman world and its enduring value.” That world was a complex place, with a vast diversity of peoples, languages, religions, and cultures spread over three continents, as full of contention and difference as our world is today.  Greek and Roman culture was shared and shaped for their own purposes by people living from India to Britain and from Germany to Ethiopia. Its medieval and modern influence is wider still. Classical Studies today belongs to all of humanity.

For this reason, the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization. 

Classical Association of the Middle West and South

We, members of the Executive Committee of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, wish to state unequivocally our opposition to racism of any kind. As the second largest classical society in North America, we are particularly alarmed by the appropriation of ancient imagery by any political entity that might seek to employ the ideas and images that are the property not only of classicists but also, in fact, of any thoughtful human being.  We therefore call out all groups that seek to use these ideas for deleterious purposes as charlatans and manipulators.  We urge all to adopt a posture of generosity and empathy as, whatever our race, creed or color, we are all together engaged in the human enterprise. Classicists are and will continue to be at the vanguard of advancing this way of thinking, promoting no particular world view save that of thoughtful care and compassion for every person, for that is the vital lesson we have learned from the civilizations that we study.

Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University is committed to diversity, inclusion, and the spirit of Pro Humanitate. In adherence with applicable laws and as provided by University policies, the University prohibits discrimination in its employment practices and its educational programs and activities on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, genetic information, disability and veteran status.

Pro Humanitate

For Founders’ Day, 2012, our retired colleague, James Powell, reflected on Wake Forest’s motto from the perspective of a student of the Classical world.

The Wake Forest motto, Pro Humanitate, is regularly translated as “For Humanity” and is probably most often understood to mean that we do what we do for the sake of humanity, for the people of the world. It is often heard as a very specific call to community service. This is fine: that is a compelling reading of the motto and we should be mindful of our wider obligations to society.

But I’d like to suggest another, complementary reading. To do that, I start with a short Latin lesson. Let’s consider some Latin vocabulary. Urbanus is the Latin word for “urban, having to do with the city, the urbs.” Urbanitas is “urbanity,” that quality that is characteristic of cities and city-dwellers. So we see that “tas” is an abstract-forming suffix that can be added to adjective stems — urbanus/urbanitas. Romanus is “Roman;” Romanitas is “Roman-ness”: that quality that is defining for being Roman. Following this pattern, if humanus means “human” then humanitas should be, not the collective of all human beings, but the quality that makes us human, that which defines us as humans. “Humanness” then might be a translation.

If we look at how the ancient Romans used humanitas, they never use it for “humanity” as a collective. Often it means “kindness”: the ability to show kindness is what defines us. But they also used it to point to human cultivation and learning: that is where they saw real humanness. The second-century essayist Aulus Gellius says that Roman humanitas is the equivalent of Greek paideia — education in the richest sense of developing the fullness of human potential. If Pro Humanitate is the motto of a University, it seems to me that it is in this meaning that we are getting close to our real commitment. Pro Humanitate calls us to consider what we are as human beings and what constitutes genuine human flourishing.

Human beings are complex, and the investigation of the human is similarly complex. We will individually bring different ideas and different commitments about matters of substance to the discussion. But it is our responsibility and privilege to engage these kinds of fundamental questions and to initiate our students into the centuries-long conversation on being human.

Now, we don’t do this every hour of every day. Our immediate tasks can be more limited and more modest. The most important task at a particular moment may be memorizing irregular French verbs. But Pro Humanitate gives us a focal point and reminds us that human cultivation, human flourishing — that is our fundamental commitment. May I suggest now that we can link up the two understandings of Pro Humanitate: when we as a University are truly doing our particular work of reflecting on humanness in all its richness and complexity then we are truly serving humanity.