More students take a classic approach when picking a language

Some consider it the best-kept secret at USF, but not for long.

Despite the program’s low profile, more and more students are choosing to major and take courses in the classics.

The Classics Program, a part of the World Languages Department, has been with the University since its inception, but professors say more students are enrolling in it.

A slow but gradual increase over the last few years has left the five professors in this program aware of the noticeable growth in their student body, which now puts Latin second only to Spanish.

“Unfortunately we have a kind of low profile here,” said Dr. Ava Chitwood, associate professor. “One of the most common comments is ‘I wish I’d known about this before.'”

Why the sudden increase? Chitwood attributes it to a growing national trend to go “back to the basics” and the uniqueness of USF’s program.

“I actually became involved with the classics on accident,” said Stefanie Butera, a senior double-majoring in anthropology and classics.

She transferred to USF as a pre-med student, needed an elective and took classical mythology.

“After the first class I was in love,” Butera said.

Classics majors learn the languages of Latin and ancient Greek. They also take culture and civilization courses which include history, art, literature, religion and architecture.

In the Latin and Greek classes, “it’s almost a seminar setting,” Chitwood said. “We have a very small number of students, so each of them get lots of one-on-one attention, and that’s something we really strive for … to work individually with each student.”

Chitwood advises incoming students to major in the classics for a variety of reasons.

A main one is that it improves vocabulary and writing skills, as well as grammar.

“Studying Latin has given me a great understanding of Romance languages as a whole,” Butera said. “I have a much better understanding of English grammar and I believe it has helped me to become a far greater writer.”

There is a lot of reading in the classics as well: “I believe that reading these masterpieces has not only greatly improved my reading comprehension, it has allowed me to broaden my mind,” Butera said.

According to Dr. Sheila Diecidue, English instructor and adviser, a knowledge of Latin can assist in every major USF offers, especially English, playing a role in the classics’ enduring and possibly increasing, popularity.

“They (the classics) give you a wonderful introduction to the ancient world and the cornerstones of our own society,” Chitwood said. “Our Western society is so squarely based in the ancient Greek and Roman world that by looking into the past and seeing where we come from, we get a better idea of where we are, where we’d like to be, and where we’d like to go.”

Emma Sylvester can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or