Decolonizing English syllabus, more voices of color

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

An anonymous petition created by undergraduate students in the Yale English Department recently asks the faculty to “decolonize” a two-semester course on major English poets that focuses on about seven white male poets: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth and T. S. Eliot.

The petition seeks to change the curriculum for the pre-1800 and 1900 that would “deliberately include literature relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.”

According to the creators of the petition, it is unfair to study only white male authors in this course and instead it should shift its focus to female, queer or writers of other ethnicities.

The resolution of the petition is to ultimately eliminate studies on white male authors.

As an English major and a person of color, while I do agree that there needs to be more inclusive of other voices in classes, English majors must study Shakespeare and the rest of the “classical” works because they are the standard examples of the English language study and also in theatre and playwriting.

Shakespeare alone portrays some of the most complex characters in writing, such as Shylock from “Merchant of Venice,” the Jewish man that is made out to be a villain but truly isn’t, or Viola from “Twelfth Night” who dresses like her dead twin brother to survive on the streets of Illyria.

Alongside Shakespeare, it is also important to look into other works from women, people of color or writers from the LGBT community.

During my time in middle school and throughout college, I’ve been inspired by countless of other authors and poets, enough to continue my education in English. Writers like Sandra Cisneros have only made my life richer and my reading experience become more diverse.

Bringing invoices from a variety of backgrounds enriches the lives of both scholars and writers, and allows us to view other classical texts and the world through other perspectives.

This is why I think balance is important within English departments. We should not allow our major authors to take up most courses. We should leave room to let other voices sink in while still keeping the “classics.”

Major author courses should start including other authors and other voices, but I do not agree with eliminating Shakespeare or Milton completely.

NEIU English professor Dr. Ryan Poll said, “I think that we need to sit down with our students and get some input. I think that there’s a lot of thought of how we put our major together and our classes.”

“As a society, we should never stop decolonizing ourselves, we should never think that the process of decolonization is over,” Dr. Poll said. “But I don’t think it should be an ‘either or’ but a ‘both.’ It shouldn’t be a competition.”

English majors will be at a loss without the studies of Shakespeare, and other non-male, non-white voices. Classical writers have inspired countless of other authors to write, which is why it is important to study the earlier works.

This allows us to contemplate issues of today, alongside works of more contemporary authors who are female, who are queer and who are of different ethnicities.

These are the voices who challenge the more famous texts and allow English majors to gain perspective on other cultures, and will ultimately drive us to become better writers and scholars.