The Latin department works to keep a dead language alive

By Mikale Thomas

Katharine Ewing has been teaching Latin at Cleveland State University for the past 15 years. In January 2019, she received a notice from the dean’s office that threatened to change that.

 The notice warned that Latin I and Latin II — the full extent of the Latin courses offered at CSU — were in danger of being permanently cancelled due to low enrollment. Neither class had been meeting 15-student minimum enrollment required by the university.

 “I felt sad when I got the news,” Ewing said.

 Ewing’s love for Latin began when she was in high school. Deciding which language elective to take was a no-brainer for her, and not just because Latin was a popular course at her public high school in Canton, Ohio. Looking back on it, she noted, “All my sisters took it — my parents expected us to… there was no question about what language I’d take.”

Ewing had already been teaching freshman English at Cleveland State for six years before switching to another language. While she’d always enjoyed Latin, she never thought she’d be teaching it, but she loves it. According to Ewing, Latin “informs your life from every direction” and helps foster a better understanding of vocabulary, grammar and writing in any language. Pre-professional law and medical students may especially benefit from a Latin education, to help them grasp jargon in their respective fields. 

“[Learning Latin] is like unlocking a puzzle… it’s satisfying,” Ewing added.

 Considering the invaluable learning opportunity that comes with Latin instruction, Ewing refused to let the program go without a fight. She reached out to the dean’s office, and they granted her another year, keeping the courses alive for the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters. Both Antonio Medina-Rivera, Chair of the World Languages, Literatures and Cultures department, and President Harlan Sands supported Ewing in her efforts and expressed how much they value the Latin program. 

“It was gratifying that they listened,” Ewing noted.

Next, Ewing had the task of boosting Latin enrollment to keep the program active beyond the one-year extension. She enlisted the help of Thrya Chaney, a passionate Latin student. 

“I was very disappointed to hear that Latin classes at CSU were in danger of being cancelled, especially because CSU’s Latin program was one of the things that led me to choose to come to CSU,” Chaney, a second-year film and media arts major, noted. She’s minoring in classical studies to supplement her film education and, like Ewing, began her Latin studies in high school.

Chaney partnered with the Student Government Association to set up a table in the Student Center innerlink. Along with Ewing and other Latin students, she handed out flyers and used this time to increase overall awareness about the available Latin courses at CSU.  

Ewing didn’t stop there. She spoke with countless groups on campus, visiting different student orientations, advisors and courses to spread the word.

 The massively collaborative work and support of campus administration, Ewing and Latin students like Chaney seem to have paid off. This fall, Latin I is almost filled to capacity, with 23 out of the 25 possible seats filled.

 Ewing suspects that natural change in student interests were to blame for the dip in Latin enrollment. 

“Humanities are suffering in [all] universities,” Ewing explained.

Judging from Ewing’s passion for Latin and its potential to enrich students’ lives regardless of their field, it’s clear that she hopes that this recent, upward trend in enrollment will last. As for what she loves most about Latin at Cleveland State, it mostly comes down to the students: 

“Part of what makes teaching it here so fun is the diversity.” Ewing noted. 

She has students from a variety of programs such as pre-professional, anthropology and even music majors. Additionally her students can span across all ages, from recently graduated high schoolers to those in the Project 60 program. 

 Those interested in learning more about Latin can follow the Latin at CSU Facebook page for a Latin word of the day. Have any questions about the Latin program specifically? You can email  Ewing at k.ewing@csuohio.edu.

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