Yale students demand end to ‘hostile’ English Lit courses
By Evan Lips | June 8, 2016, 14:12 EST
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The latest social-justice crusade bubbling up among “oppressed” undergraduates at prestigious Yale University comes in the form of a student petition asserting that a “Major English Poets” curriculum requirement features too many major poets from England who are white and male. The petition claims the course is “hostile to students of color.”
The document, which went online late last month, calls on administrators to dump “the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study.” And putting it more bluntly – to “decolonize, not diversify, its course offerings.”
“It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors,” the students contend. “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,” the petition says.
While the series is mandatory for those majoring in English – and includes white males such as William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton and T.S. Eliot – the current Yale English Department catalog shows that students can supplement this year-long requirement with courses such as “Race and Gender in American Literature,” “American Artists and the African American Book” and “Imagining Sexual Politics: 1960s to Present.”
Students who crafted the petition contend, however, that “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 petition also claims that “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 of secondary scholarship.” Keep in mind this is for an English major, not sociology, cultural anthropology or political science.
“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,” the petitioners say.
When asked by the Daily Beast to comment on the students’ demands, Harold Bloom, Yale’s Sterling Professor of the Humanities and a prolific author of literary studies, responded:
“I am too weary to comment again on this nonsense,” he said by email, according to the online news outlet.
Katy Waldman, a Yale graduate and English major, wrote in a recent Slate.com article a defense of the core requirement, saying that “if you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets.”
“A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, ‘Othello’ takes on racial prejudice directly, and ‘Twelfth Night’ contains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars,” Waldman went on in the essay. “The ‘stay in your lane’ mentality that seems to undergird so much progressive discourse – only polyamorous green people really ‘get’ the ‘polyamorous green experience,’ and therefore only polyamorous greens should read and write about polyamorous greens, say – ignores our common humanity.”