Editorial: It’s time for more diverse voices in our literary syllabi

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | October 12, 2017

Literature often reflects the values and thoughts we find most important in our society. Courses that teach literature should aim to integrate these issues into their syllabi.

While Hopkins has renowned English and Writing Seminars departments that offers a variety of courses ranging from “Readings in Poetry: International Voices” to “British Literature,” some students find that the Western literary canon dominates the current  curriculum. They feel these courses do not adequately represent the complete diversity of our current body of literature.

We believe that the required readings for English and Writing Seminars courses at both introductory and upper levels should include works from writers with diverse racial and economic backgrounds. As we are living in a more globalized society accompanied by an unstable political climate, we believe it is important to teach students to be able to confront an array of voices and ideas.

These changes would not only affect students within these majors, but impact others as well. For example, undergraduates in the Film & Media Studies Department are required to take a  certain number of English courses.

Students of other academic backgrounds also take introductory level English or Writing Seminars courses to fulfill their writing intensive and humanities distribution requirements. We feel it is important that students fulfilling their requirements are exposed to a more comprehensive range of works.

We acknowledge that the specialities of the English  and Writing Seminars faculty may not lie in these diverse literary areas. We also recognize that these departments have made recent efforts to offer classes with professors who specialize in works from different cultures.

This is evident from a class such as “African American Literature from 1900 to Present” with Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Lawrence Jackson, which is currently being offered this fall. We appreciate the steps that the English department has taken to recognize these voices. 

We also are aware that professors have mentioned that classes focusing on more diverse literary fields have seen lower enrollment rates. This is thus an opportunity to not only call on the University to push for professors to diversify their syllabi, but also for students to take these classes that feature a variety of voices.

Currently, the English major requirements include pre-1800 literature and foreign language courses. For Writing Seminars, there is no specification on non-Western works.   We encourage both departments to consider adding a non-Western course requirement, similar to how the International Studies Program requires non-Western history courses to complete the major.

Especially today, diversifying our syllabi is important because our current literary dialogue emphasizes the experiences of people from different walks of life. This can be seen in the rising popularity of authors such as Ta-Nehesi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Junot Diaz and Salman Rushdie.

We know that students and the University care about representing these voices because all of these aforementioned authors have visited our campus within the past couple of years. There is much that our English and Writing Seminars departments do well to prepare their students but a new generation requires an updated curriculum.

Editor’s Note: Three members of the Editorial Board are currently majoring in English or Writing Seminars.

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