Discussions of diversifying faculty appointments are currently circulating in the NYU English department. In a revamping of the English major curriculum itself to be more inclusive of literature from around the world, the department foresees carrying over this initiative to a more student-based platform in the next few year. While this is a great effort by the university towards inclusivity, these efforts to diversity should ultimately be initiated sooner, if not right now — especially given the current political climate.
The English major curriculum is, at present, heavily oriented towards authors of Christian white male descent. Core courses include British Literature I and II, American Literature I and English 101. Depending on a student’s choice of English 101 section, his or her introduction to the study of literature may be more based on the literature of minorities than that of others. However, the other core courses remain very much fixed in being both very Western and very white. Students in British Literature read works written by authors such as Marie de France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt, Queen Elizabeth, Aemilia Lanyer and John Donne. Majors can choose to diversify their individual tracks of study with a further selection of courses. However, when one of these courses is a mandated exploration into British Literature before 1800, it is fair to say that the curriculum is not as based in diverse works as it should be.
The department recently held a plenary lecture which explored the possibilities of incorporating “world literature” into the English major syllabus. World literature was defined to be literature which circulates outside of its cultural origin. South Asian literature, African American literature and Malaysian literature all fall under this umbrella. Problems with such an expansion were brought up as well — students unfamiliar with the language of origin would ultimately not be able to apply the “close-reading” method to such texts. While valid, it is more than acceptable for a work to not be accessible to the entirety of an audience. Works that stem from Anglo-Saxon culture daily challenge international students who are not raised in the Western culture. The push to get students to actively confront unfamiliar works should surpass the difficulties of reading in translation.
Students are exposed to a different voice, a different perspective and to opportunity deepen their study of literature when they are given more diverse materials to work with. An expansion of the syllabus would also likely bring in more students of diverse backgrounds to pursue the English major, and therefore perspectives to better inform classroom discussions of literature. Ultimately, the initiative by the English department to diversify faculty appointments should be carried on to the English major curriculum itself. Such an expansion would better enrich the major’s study of literature, and is an especially relevant concern in our current political state.
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Email Aparna Alankar at [email protected]