Yale ‘Decolonizes’ English Dept. After Complaints Studying White Authors ‘Actively Harms’ Students

Aryssa Damron, College Fix, October 27, 2017

A year and a half after a petition circulated calling for Yale to “decolonize the English department,” the first students are enrolled in a new course created by the department to increase the breadth of the curriculum and combat claims of departmental racism.

What’s more, new requirements are in place to ensure a more “diversified” slate of courses.

Previous requirements for the major included two courses in “Major English Poets,” including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton and Eliot, among others. But that two-course series petitioners had deemed actively harmful due to its focus on white male poets. The series is no longer a graduation requirement for Yale’s English majors.

The petition, a Google document which has since been made private, critiqued the perceived whiteness of the English department requirements: “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.”

“It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings,” the petition added. “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.

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Nearly a year after the petition, around seven months ago, Yale’s English faculty voted to “diversity” the curriculum. At the time of the vote, the director of the department’s undergraduate studies, Jessica Brantley, told The Yale Daily News: “We’ve constructed a curriculum that has inclusion as its goal, embedded in the structures of its requirements, and I’m very excited to implement and develop that curriculum further.”

The reconfiguring of the English department’s required courses did not directly address the demands of the petition to do away with the Major English Poets sequences altogether; the courses still exist. The reconfiguration also did not refocus the program’s pre-1800 and pre-1900 literature requirement to address issues of race, gender, and sexuality as demanded by the petition.

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Because Chaucer and Shakespeare are both studied in English Poetry 1, these expanded options mean that a student could graduate from the program without ever reading either of these authors.

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