Yale University has amended its undergraduate English curriculum to combat claims of systemic racism and offer a more “diversified” selection of courses to its students. The new requirements mean that English majors no longer need to study colonial supremacists such as Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Previously, all English students were required to take two courses from Yale’s famous “Major English Poets” track, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Eliot and others. However, several student groups criticized the series due to its excessive focus on “white male poets”. As a result, the two Major English Poets courses are now no longer a prerequisite for the bachelor’s degree.
Yale’s progressive students attracted global attention in 2015 when a YouTube video emerged of undergraduates surrounding and bullying a lecturer, following a row over “offensive” Halloween costumes. One male student squared up to the lecturer and ordered him to “look at me”, while another student threw her bag on the floor and screamed profanities in his face.
The latest capitulation comes a year and a half after a student petition called for the university to “decolonize” its English department. The petition demanded that the faculty reconsider the core requirements and introductory courses for the English undergraduate degree.
The patently neo-Marxist document also criticized the apparent “whiteness” of the English department curriculum:
“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 sequence 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.
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.”
Most notably, the “call to action” orders the Major English Poets and pre-1800 prerequisites to incorporate literature related to race, gender and women’s studies. It claims that studying white male poets is “unacceptable” and the lack of diversity isolates and pushes out talented non-white students.
Around 7 months after the petition was put forward — garnering the signatures of more than 160 students — the English department faculty yielded to its demands and diversified its famous English undergraduate program.
Although the professors stopped short of eliminating the Major English Poets series entirely, according to TheCollegeFix, courses that include Shakespeare and Chaucer are now optional. Students can therefore complete the entire undergraduate program without studying several of the most famous and important contributors to English literature.
Director of English 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.”
According to Yale English Professor Catherine Nicholson, the proposed solution makes an “implicit promise” to students that they will study a “broad diversity of texts”, in which no period will “simply and exclusively focus on the writing representations of aristocratic white men”.
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.