“It’s time for the English major to decolonize.”
Social justice warriors at Yale are angry that the study of English involves reading the work of old white men. In a move that defies history and logic, they have launched a petition which makes specific demands on Yale’s English Department to put an end to this travesty.
Robby Soave writes at Reason:
Yale Students Tell English Profs to Stop Teaching English: Too Many White Male Poets
Some Yale University students are demanding changes to the English Department curriculum: specifically, they don’t think it should feature so many English poets who were straight, white, wealthy, and male.
“It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices,” the students wrote in a petition to the faculty. “We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.”
The “Major English Poets” sequence, a mandatory two-course commitment for English majors, is particularly problematic, according to the students. These classes cover Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and T.S. Eliot. It’s not the most diverse line up, to be sure, but it’s the one that best reflects history the way it actually happened. Inarguably, these are the most influential poets in the English language.
But students think this sequence “creates a culture that is hostile to students of color.”
The student petition itself is particularly entertaining. Here’s the text in full:
Petition to the Yale English Department Faculty
We, undergraduate students in the Yale English Department, write to urge the faculty to reevaluate the undergraduate curriculum. We ask the department to reconsider the current core requirements and the introductory courses for the major.
In particular, we oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity. The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.
When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong. The English department loses out when talented students engaged in literary and cultural analysis are driven away from the major. Students who continue on after taking the introductory sequence are ill-prepared to take higher-level courses relating to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, ability, or even to engage with critical theory or secondary scholarship. We ask that Major English Poets be abolished, and that the pre-1800/1900 requirements be refocused to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.
It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings. A 21st century education is a diverse education: we write to you today inspired by student activism across the university, and to make sure that you know that the English department is not immune from the collective call to action.
It is our understanding that the faculty must vote in order to reconsider the major’s requirements — considering the concerns expressed here and elsewhere by undergraduate students, we believe it would be unethical for any member of the faculty, no matter their stance on these issues, to vote against beginning the reevaluation process. It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices. We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.
They have spoken.
You have to marvel at the arrogance and smug overconfidence of that closing.
According to their website, Yale’s English Department offers literature courses that focus on women writers, African American writers, Asian writers, and other varieties.
What’s next? Should science classes stop teaching Einstein and Newton?
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