I feel I should not have to say this to make my feelings valid, accepted, or listened to, but if I don’t, the automatic assumption is that I, the anonymous contributor, am white, upper-class, and a voice of those who history has usually represented. For the record, I am a low-income, first-generation American person of color. That being said, I feel that the protest of Hum 110 is missing the point and making it harder for me to learn.
While I felt irritated getting the email at the beginning of the semester about Reed’s Dissent Policy, I’m starting to change my opinion on how I feel about the Hum 110 Protests. This is not to say I think the people protesting are wrong, nor that they should not exercise their right to protest; I believe these students are making valid points about the exclusion of certain communities and histories from the Hum 110 Syllabus and course.
The protesters seem focused on the voices of those excluded from the Hum syllabus, but the reality is that the works the protesters want included are simply not relevant to the course the College is currently attempting to teach. There are other courses that pertain to these parts of history and the Humanities. These courses can be taken after the introductory Hum course. Examples include African Literature and the Problem of Language (LIT 310), Early Chinese Philosophical Texts (LIT 355), Foundations of Chinese Civilization (HUM 230), and Studies in African American Literature (ENG 356). While these upper level courses exist, almost all of them list Hum 110 as a prerequisite.
Humanities 110 has been kept as a foundational basis for a Reed education for decades, and with good reason. Reed believes Hum is necessary to introduce “students to the skills and habits of mind necessary for academic inquiry in their future at Reed.” Hum is meant to introduce concepts of group analysis, conversation, reasoning, writing, and discussion. These are key components of successful thought and argument necessary in the world of academia. Hum 110 is meant to builds these skills for our four years here as well as further academic studies beyond Reed. This is why Reed believes Hum 110 is important, and why the course has been a constant throughout most of the college’s history.
When we go back roughly 7 thousand years, we cannot expect something that ancient to cater to today’s standards of human behavior, social structure, and morality. We spend time criticizing the texts for not being inclusive, rather than actually attempting to understand what they’re saying. Trying to crowbar modern feminism and intersectionality into texts dating back almost 2,000 years at minimum is an exercise in futility.
Hum 110 is trying to combine art, history, literature, and philosophy of a timeline that spans roughly 5500 years of humanity and two continents into a course that is two semesters long. The course is by no means perfect. The reason Hum 110 is limited to societies of the Mediterranean is because those are what have come to be accepted as the cradle of Western civilization in Western academia’s eyes. Modern democratic government, philosophy, architecture, medicine, mathematics, literature, and theater all have roots that trace back to the ancient world studied in Hum 110. By studying these texts, we are able to understand more about our society and culture.
I find value in the Classics, because they are deeply tied to almost all of history and literature. The ancient world has much to teach us today about humanity, ethics, and the lack thereof. I was drawn to how Reed uses the Classics as a foundational basis for their educational system, and as a common course to ground the community. I have been to Hum 110 lectures before and during the protests, and lectures now almost seem catered to try and appease the protesting audience. I am here at Reed to learn. I came here partly because I wanted to take Hum 110. People are here at Reed because they’re paying 60k a year, or they’re on financial aid and are barely scraping by. Hum 110 is a class we are paying to attend, a required class we are paying to attend. It takes a special kind of privilege to be able to spend three hours a week complaining about a course you’re not taking.
A large crowd of people at the front of the lecture hall holding photos of deceased minorities doesn’t foster a healthy learning environment. Yes, I know the point is to bring to light the injustices occurring in the world, but Hum 110 is not meant to focus on the current political situation or current injustices. Hum is a class that teaches us to look to the past to understand the present.
I want to be able to go Hum lecture without having people holding pictures of dead children in my face.