Cornell University to 'decolonize' its 'Literatures in English' curriculum

Cornell University’s Department of Literatures in English is shifting major requirements, will lean less on American and European authors.

Department chair believes that the current curriculum introduces a 'liability when it comes to the question of race.'

Cornell University’s Department of Literatures in English restructured its major requirements to remove the students’ “liability when it comes to the question of race.”

Currently, the department has three requirements: three courses “in which 50% or more of the material consists of literature originally written in English before 1800,” two courses “at the 4000 level and above,” and three courses that “must form an intellectually coherent ‘concentration.’”

However, as student newspaper The Cornell Daily Sun reports, the department will add a new requirement for the 2022-2023 school year that forces students to examine English literature beyond the scope of the United States and Europe.

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English Department Chair Caroline Levine told The Cornell Daily Sun that although “the freedom for students” in the current curriculum “is nice,” it could also become “a liability when it comes to the question of race.”

“When students seek famous authors without realizing the rich literary tradition of places like Caribbean, for example, it compounds the status quo,” she added.

Professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi believes that the change will help with efforts toward “decolonization.”

“There is the philosophical dimension of decolonization, and there is also the pragmatics of times we are living in and what they are demanding,” Ngugi told The Cornell Daily Sun. “We want students who are truly aware of their fields, ones that we ourselves would hire now.”

As Campus Reform reported in November, Cornell’s English department changed its name to the “department of literatures in English” to challenge “structural forms of racism.”

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The change was meant to combat the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality.”

When asked for comment, Levine told Campus Reform that their work is “serious intellectual labor” that Campus Reform readers “do not recognize.”

”I’d really prefer it if you didn’t cover our curricular changes, though of course you are free to do so. Your readers do not recognize our work as serious intellectual labor that is done in good faith, and the hatred they are ready to hurl at us is both frightening and unfair,” Levine said.

Campus Reform reached out to Ngugi, and Cornell University for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft