A possible new honor society is looking to revitalize ancient languages and cultures on Gonzaga's campus later this year.
Robert Prusch, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, last week officially approved the formation of a chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, an honorary collegiate society for students of Latin and Greek, clearing the way for the submission of a new chapter petition.
"The classics program ties the humanistic, Catholic and Jesuit together," Prusch said. "This affirms the importance of the program to the college."
The project to bring Eta Sigma Phi to campus began with and has been led by a single student. Patrick Withers, a sophomore political science, economics and classical civilizations major, realized over the winter break that there were no extracurricular activities specifically dedicated to the classics at Gonzaga and became interested in Eta Sigma Phi as a way to fill this gap.
The plans for the society are already finding appreciation from other classics students.
"It legitimizes my interest," said Mary Elder, a junior English and classical civilizations major.
Withers, who had no experience in the classical languages except for Latin hymns sung in choir before coming to Gonzaga, took his first class on a whim to try something new.
"There's something very powerful about learning something the way some people have been for hundreds if not thousands of years," he said. "It links you to Thomas Aquinas to Karl Marx to Hegel."
He hopes the society can bring together classics students outside of their courses and foster precollegiate interest in the field by tutoring at local schools like Gonzaga Preparatory School that offer classes in Latin.
Tarin Richards, a sophomore who is hoping to fit a classical civilizations minor around her chemistry major, sees the opportunity to tutor as an especially good way to get more involved with the classics.
Fr. Ken Krall, S.J., instructor of Latin and Greek languages, is prepared to serve as adviser to the local chapter of Eta Sigma Phi.
"Classics are a traditional part of Jesuit education since its inception," he said, excited for the opportunity to have such a spotlight on the classics department while its emphasis at Jesuit universities and seminaries has waned in the latter part of the century.
Should the petition for a Gonzaga chapter be approved at the Eta Sigma Phi national convention in April, it will become the 12th honor society on campus, standing alongside those concerned with accounting, education and engineering.
The society's introduction to campus will coincide with a change in the leadership of the classical civilizations department. Andrew Goldman, an assistant professor of history, will be assuming the position of chairperson from Fr. Patrick Hartin, a professor of religious studies, in an effort to bring a greater focus upon the cultural and historical aspects of ancient societies to the department.
In addition to promoting the study of the ancient Roman and Greek languages and their respective cultures, Eta Sigma Phi works to form relationships between classics students at different universities. It also holds annual translation contests and hosts a national convention, according to its Web site.
Membership in Eta Sigma Phi will be available to all who have completed a course in either the Latin or Greek language with at least a 'B.'