In Response to: Who Owns the Past?

I agree with assistant professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta ’06 as quoted in the article “Who Owns the Past?” (feature, Jan. 9). Princeton should rename its quasi-generic classics department something like the Department of Ancient Greek and Roman Culture. I wrote a letter to that effect a quarter of a century ago, addressed to alma mater’s then-president and then-dean of the faculty. The latter duly replied, apparently bemused by my suggestion.

A few years earlier, I had been awakened to such “default” categorization while editing the speech of a Japanese businessman who asked, “Why do non-European cultures always need a descriptor when people refer to their classical expressions: classical Indonesian music, classical Indian dance, classical Chinese painting?”

The Japanese man raised this question without rancor. I think the fairest way to understand the perpetuation of presumed labeling is to see it as similar to a default setting on one’s phone or computer. There is an obvious inherent assumption, but it arises from narrow-mindedness, not from hatred.

Times have changed, but presumptive thinking persists in academia. For example, Donna Zuckerberg *14 explains the Red Pill in the article as follows: “Zuckerberg, citing self-reported surveys, says members are predominantly white, heterosexual American men between the ages of 18 and 35.” A mere two paragraphs later, the unspecified percentage from a self-report is generalized into a 100 percent homogenized neo-stereotype: “a group of angry white men.”

People trained in academic discourse should avoid promulgating generalizations based on vague and unverified surveys. This unfortunate method of “reasoning” only serves to exacerbate gender wars and other forms of divisiveness that have become au courant on campuses.

Martin Schell ’74
Klaten, Central Java