Anyone who has taken introductory English courses has likely realized that the widely considered greatest writers in history are mostly white men. While Hemingway, Chaucer and Shakespeare surely contributed mountains of iconic work towards English literature, they aren’t the only great writers we’ve had and some Yale students are tired of their program acting like they are.

Undergraduates at Yale have come out recently with claims that “it is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors.” As of now, English literature students are required to spend two semesters studying from a group of artists deemed as “major English poets.” As you’d expect, this list is primarily comprised of white men. 

The students have come together through multiple attempts to diversify the program’s curriculum through both petitions and editorials. A petition started by the students asks that the program work “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.”

Adriana Miele, a Yale student, wrote a column in the Yale Daily News that criticized the current way of thinking in the program. Her claims were that students “are taught how to analyze canonical literature works”, they “are not taught to question why it is canonical, or the implications of canonical works that actively oppress and marginalize non-white, non-male, trans and queer people … It is possible to graduate with a degree in English language and literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men. Many students do not read a single female author in the two foundational courses for the major. This department actively contributes to the erasure of history,”

According to the Guardian, the point of the program is to “is to provide all students with a generous introduction to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of the English literary tradition”. The poems the students read, it adds, “take up questions and problems that resonate throughout the whole of English literature: the status of vernacular language, the moral promise and perils of fiction, the relationships between men and women, the nature of heroism, the riches of tradition and the yearning to make something new.”

However, some members of Yale’s faculty have come to support the students in their hopes to add some much needed representation to their education to better reflect the multi-faceted world we now live in.

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