U of T news

Hellenic studies program launched with $1.75 million endowment

Man holding Greek flag

A protester holds a Greek flag during the recent economic crisis. The new program will include courses on contemporary Greek politics and current affairs (Pacific Press/Getty Images)

The University of Toronto is launching a new Hellenic studies program, thanks to a $1.75 million endowment fund established by the Hellenic Heritage Foundation.

The program, announced on April 28, is designed to build an understanding of Hellenism in Canada and overseas and build bridges between Canada and Greece. The new courses will be housed in the Munk School’s Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES).

“Establishing an Hellenic studies program is a milestone for the Munk School and U of T, as it provides the opportunity, in perpetuity, for students to study the Greek language, along with Greek history and politics and the importance of Greece in European affairs,” said Randall Hansen, director of CERES. “The Munk School and our students thank the Hellenic Heritage Foundation for this opportunity to deepen the world’s understanding of Hellenism.”

The Hellenic Heritage Foundation is a charitable organization with a mission to preserve, promote and advance Greek culture and heritage in Canada.

“The foundation was established 20 years ago to make a difference in the lives of our community,” said its president, John Dagonas. “Establishing a fund for Hellenic studies at U of T is doing just that. As Pericles once said, ‘What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.’”

Anticipation for the new Hellenic studies program began in 2014, when U of T’s Greek Students’ Association helped to restore Greek language courses at the university, part of a three-year pilot project backed by the foundation. The courses had one of the highest enrollment rates among North American universities. Also on offer were courses about contemporary Greek politics and Greece’s role in the Balkans and European Union.

Learning Greek is a cornerstone of the program now, but Hellenic studies is also devoted to Greece’s history, culture, politics and current affairs — and the program gives students the chance to study in Greece.

“The program offers international opportunities, which is different from other programs of its kind in Canada,” said associate professor Robert Austin, coordinator of the program. “The past two academic years, for example, featured a new course that took place in Athens, Greece, plus this summer we added a five-week program in Thessaloniki, with trips throughout Greece. That kind of experience is unique to any undergraduate degree.”

Karolina Dejnicka, a second-year Master’s student at the Munk School, participated in the recent course in Athens. “Travelling to Greece showed me the disconnect between foreign media reports and what is actually happening on the ground in Athens,” she said. “My research project focused on the alarmist overtones of mass media in reporting Greek-Turkish relations, whereas sentiments are much more subdued within both of these countries.”

“The research trip was incredible,” said Maria Alexiou, an undergraduate student who also participated. “Travelling to Athens with our professors and conducting interviews with politicians, NGOs, academics and government agencies was eye-opening. It pushed me to rethink what I had read about Greece.”

People gathered at the launch of the new Hellenic Studies program

Left to right: Stephen Toope, Director, Munk School of Global Affairs; David Cameron, Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science; Randall Hansen, Director, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Taiyan Liu, student in the Hellenic studies program; John Dagonas, President, Hellenic Heritage Foundation; John Sotos, VP, Endowments & Major Projects, Hellenic Heritage Foundation; and Steve Mirkopoulos, VP Fundraising, Hellenic Heritage Foundation.