Yale Student Petition: Too Many Major English Poets In ‘Major English Poets’ Class

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By Andrew Stiles | 6:10 pm, June 3, 2016

Angry students at Yale University are demanding that the Ivy League school completely revamp its core classes for English majors.

Specifically, the aggrieved students want to abolish the storied Major English Poets courses that have long been staples of the university’s English department.


According to a petition posted online, the students believe that the courses feature too many “white male authors,” such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Wordsworth, Edmund Spenser, Alexander Pope, John Milton, and T.S. Eliot. In other words, too many major English poets.

The lack of diversity among the course material, the petition argues, “actively harms all students,” and is “especially hostile to students of color,” and discourages them from becoming English majors as a result.

The students want to replace the poetry courses with a “refocused” curriculum  that focuses on early modern literature “relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.”

The petition continues:

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.

It is our understanding that the faculty must vote in order to reconsider the major’s requirements — considering the concerns expressed here and elsewhere by undergraduate students, we believe it would be unethical for any member of the faculty, no matter their stance on these issues, to vote against beginning the reevaluation process. It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices. We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.

The petition probably won’t lead to any significant changes. Yale is not likely to budge, given its small-c conservative nature with respect to academics. But even if they were so inclined, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of leeway in terms of includes works from openly transgender author in the early modern era.

As Katy Waldman writes at Slate:  “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,” even if the canon is decidedly more racist, sexist, etc., than modern society would allow. That’s just the way it is.