HUMA: The only FYE the university needs


Photo credit: Andrea Nebhut

Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Of all the ‘controversial’ opinion columns I’ve written over the past year, I believe this will truly be the most contentious of all. Are you ready for it?

The objectively best and most valuable First-Year Experience (FYE) class is HUMA: Great Books of the Ancient World. In fact, I’ll even take it a step further to assert that HUMA should be the only FYE, with every single incoming first-year taking it.

Of course, I am extremely biased in favor of HUMA. I was placed in HUMA when I was a first-year, and I had the incredible opportunity of being a peer tutor this past fall. My love of HUMA was part of the reason why I decided to spend three semesters taking Latin for my foreign language credit instead of one of intermediate Spanish just to get it over with. My accounting major roommate’s love of HUMA (and the professors) led her to accidentally get a classics minor from taking so many of Benjamin Stevens’s courses, and there is an endless amount of other similar stories.

Simply put, HUMA exposes students to material which they will otherwise not see at university unless they are one of the precious few who decide to take on a classics major or minor. While many of the other FYE topics are also unique in nature (Being Young in Asia, Science Fiction, Creative Genius) — they are subjects that are traditionally not taught in a classroom setting and don’t really necessitate formal teaching. While some aspects of these courses take on traditional teaching elements (the art history portions of Arts and Ideas or the scientific lessons of Climate Change), many of these courses are about things which most incoming students already have at least a degree of knowledge.

This isn’t so for HUMA. For many students, a HUMA class is the first (and sadly last) time they’ll interact with the works of Homer, Virgil, Aeschylus or Sappho. The universal lessons which can be learned from epic poetry or Greek tragedy are beyond compare and ripe for connection-making in later courses.

Then there’s the aspect of rigor. As the first FYE upon which all FYEs are built, HUMA has a structure which has been perfected throughout the years. As many students who were placed in HUMA will attest, HUMA seems to be on a higher level of difficulty than many of the other FYEs, especially due to the large volume of readings. It’s a class that is known to produce vastly improved writers, readers and critical thinkers, which is much of the purpose of the FYE.

The importance of HUMA goes beyond just teaching students to be good at quickly writing quality essays or discussing tales written by a bunch of old dead people. It also speaks to the fact that Trinity is a liberal arts university that still values the study of the humanities. Even though our business and STEM programs are robust and impressive, at the end of the day Trinity is still a liberal arts educational institution. We’re here not just to learn the job skills we’ll need in the future, but to be educated in the holistic sense of the word.

The classics are indispensable in a liberal arts education, as they form the bedrock education is built upon. Reading the stories and ideas of the past gives us a basis on which to interact with the present, and the context with which to anticipate the future. While HUMA is not the end all be all for a liberal arts or classical education, it is a perfect starting place for any student entering Trinity University. It will set them up for success like no other and help them appreciate where we as a human society have come from in regards to education.

If you missed out on HUMA when you were a first-year, check out a classics course or take the deep dive and enroll in Classical Greek or Latin. You may be surprised how much you love the ever-expanding world of the classics and see why it has endured for millennia upon millennia.