A Facultea with Professor Peter Struck
By Olivia Lee
Early last month, twenty students gathered around a table in the Classical Studies Lounge, chatting over Insomnia Cookies and freshly-brewed tea and excited to begin the evening’s event, the first Facultea of the semester. Faculteas are one of the Classical Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board’s signature semesterly events—an evening of cookies, tea, and conversation between a professor and undergraduates. These small gatherings give students the chance to get to know their professors in a more casual setting, where they can ask questions and discuss a wide variety of topics.
On this evening, the Classical Studies Lounge was full of students from a broad range of class years, academic backgrounds, and levels of involvement in the department. At the table, a classical studies major sat next to a political science major considering a minor in classical studies, and next to the two of them sat a STEM major who had just taken their first course in classical studies. For all of these students, it wasn’t just the incentive of free cookies that brought them into the room—they were here to get to know the guest of honor himself.
Dr. Peter Struck has been a faculty member at Penn for over two decades, where he currently serves as the Chair of the Department of Classical Studies. Beyond the department, he also serves as the Director of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars (BFS) program and the founder of the BFS program’s Integrated Studies curriculum. Over the years, he has taught many courses as a Professor of Classical Studies, and many undergraduates across all areas of study know him well for his popular spring-semester course, CLST 100: Greek and Roman Mythology.
As the Facultea got off to a start, members of the Undergraduate Advisory Board asked Professor Struck about his personal journey to becoming a professor of classical studies, especially given his academic background. With multiple degrees in English, religion & literature, and comparative literature, students were curious to hear how he had found himself interested in classics. As he shared about his educational experiences, it was inspiring to hear him speak about his passion for ancient literature—the crossroads of his multiple areas of study—and learn about how the philosophical ideas behind classical texts resonated with him as a student. Professor Struck’s excitement was infectious, and the students around the table were eager to ask him more questions about his undergraduate and graduate years.
As the table invited him to share about how he ended up here at Penn, Professor Struck discussed his impactful time at the University of Chicago, where he dedicated his days to reading and researching as much as he could. However, as the conversation moved on from his education, it was the story of how he came to join Penn’s Classical Studies department that soon became the focal point of the evening. Professor Struck set the scene for the group, sharing about how he had traveled to Penn for his interview over twenty years ago and found himself face-to-face with a daunting panel of now-familiar faces—faculty members such as Professor Sheila Murnaghan and Professor Ralph Rosen, whom undergraduates today also greatly admire. As Professor Struck told this story, it was amazing to hear how someone like himself, whom students respect and look up to, once felt the same way about other professors in our department.
As the evening progressed, the conversation turned to Professor Struck’s experiences with the undergraduate community. Between teaching his well-known course, CLST 100: Greek and Roman Mythology, and living amongst undergraduates in the college houses, Professor Struck has been highly involved in both teaching and advising undergraduates over the years. In particular, what he’s enjoyed most is learning from the undergraduates he teaches. Every so often, he shared, a student in his class says something that shifts his own perspective, and for that reason, he looks forward to that moment every year.
Near the end of the discussion, a student asked Professor Struck for his thoughts, as Chair of the department, regarding the direction in which the field is moving today—will the discipline of classical studies change? Does it need to change? If so, how? In his response, Professor Struck countered the common argument that classical studies is losing its relevance, or is no longer relevant at all—to him, he said, staying relevant isn’t the point of his work; he researches, teaches, and shares about what speaks to him. However, he advised, the discipline itself will be unable to progress until it expands its scope and prioritizes sharing the full narrative of the ancient world. In its history, classical studies has historically silenced and overlooked many voices, conversations, and topics, Professor Struck told the students, and now it is time to implement change, starting in Penn’s own department.
For many attendees, especially students who came from his lectures, this Facultea provided a first chance to chat with Professor Struck one-on-one, an opportunity that the undergraduates greatly appreciated, especially after several semesters of virtual events. As the evening drew to a close, Professor Struck took a look around the room and remarked that there’s a bright future ahead for classical studies at Penn. We’re inclined to agree, especially with leaders like Professor Struck at the helm.
To learn more about Dr. Peter Struck, check out his profile here.
Olivia Lee (College ’24) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies and minoring in Religious Studies.