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Barnard College Student Petitions Against ‘Eurocentric Literature’ in English Program

Barnard College Student Petitions Against ‘Eurocentric Literature’ in English Program

“many students avoiding the major in favor of some that are more inclusive”

In a growing number of disciplines, diversity is becoming more important than the subject matter.

Campus Reform reports:

Barnard student petitions against ‘Eurocentric literature’

More than 200 students at Barnard College have signed on to a petition demanding that the school’s English department reform its “Eurocentric” focus on pre-1900’s literature.

The “Petition for Diversifying the the Barnard English Major” was written by student Mya Nunnally, an English major who feels that the department’s “focus on the Western Canon as the standard for literary excellence” overshadows literature written by people of color.

“By focusing on Eurocentric literature, Barnard’s English major perpetuates a vicious, exclusionary cycle,” writes Nunnally, adding that the English department creates an “academic space that erases all the crucial contributions of other cultures.”

“Not only is this blatantly racially biased, it has lead [sic] to many students avoiding the major in favor of some that are more inclusive,” Nunnally adds.

Out of 10 required classes for an English major, four must be focused on the pre-1900s, according to the department.

In an interview with Campus Reform, Nunnally said she has felt a “gradual frustration” as a student of color majoring in English, explaining that “Once I knew that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way, I decided something needed to be done.”


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Something needs to be done alright – She needs to go. She could never be anything in literature with her view of the world.

It’s called an English Major, and not an Ebonics Major.

Nunnally is a student. In other words, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Having been a black-skinned English major myself, I think Nunally’s fievance is absurd. What she doesn’t know is that, until contemporary times, the literature of English-speaking people, globally, was shaped by European—meaning British, shaped by Greeks and Romans—works. Poetry, for instance, has a lot of technical terms that perhaps Nunnally finds frustrating because those terms are required not only for sensible discussion but also for producing works within particular genres. A sonnet is not the same as an elegy. A literature student has to distinguish between all these forms and genres.

Doing pre-19th century English Literature, not Literature in English, means study of writers who were English. Yes, there is a body of Literature in English written by a vast number of races. If Nunnally wants to study that, then she should change her major. If she finds the discipline too complex and demanding—it is, when properly taught—Nunnally should change her major or quit college.

the English department creates an “academic space that erases all the crucial contributions of other cultures.”

Name three.

It’s an English department that administers the English program for English majors. Why should the majority of the coursework now be that of non-English or European literature in order to be an English major? Also, why are students, who are presumably going to college to become educated, being given a voice on what courses they should study in order to receive their degree. It is rather like someone who has never set foot in the forest demanding they sack the guide so that they can ignorantly lead their lost party out of the forest to safety.

Isn’t this somewhat like going to a French restaurant and then complaining that the menu offers neither fajitas, nor egg foo young, nor schnitzels, not even a good borscht!

If you don’t care for Barnard’s English program, why don’t you find something more to your liking? It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of other offerings (at Barnard and elsewhere).

If you really want borscht, perhaps you’re in the wrong place. Why, exactly, should they change to suit you?

The comments here are well thought out and well stated. But I’m wondering if the petition offered examples of the pre-1900 diversity they would prefer? Because, frankly, I’m confused. As previous commentators have pointed out, it’s the English Lit program they are enrolled in.

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