A Shakespearean Tragedy At Yale

Posted: Oct 27, 2017 12:15 PM
A Shakespearean Tragedy At Yale

English majors at Yale University have succeeded in forcing their English department into diversifying its curriculum and changing the major's pre-requisite requirements. The Major English Poets sequences came under fire from students at the university as the poets being studied were not diverse enough. In laymen's terms, they were "too white."

According to the student petition:

Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong.

What exactly about "white poetry" is so offensive to these students?

The petition stated the lack of diversity was "unacceptable" and called for the major to "decolonize," not simply "diversify."

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.

Aryssa Damron, an English major at Yale and a contributor at The College Fix, explains that English majors are no longer required to study the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Eliot, Donne, and others.

Though the pre-requisite courses have changed for those majoring in English, the poets being protested can still be studied.

According to Damron, there are four different pre-requisite courses that students can choose from, and students must take three of the four classes. In the course titled "Readings in English Poetry 1," students can study Shakespeare and Chaucer while in "Readings in English Poetry 2" they can study Milton, Eliot, and other contemporary writers. The other two classes are "Readings in American Literature" and "Readings in Comparative World English Literature."

Damron explains that Yale's English department did not meet all the demands of the petition, however. She also addresses what changing the curriculum can mean for English majors. Thankfully, Yale's English department has a little backbone left.

The reconfiguring of the English department’s required courses did not directly address the demands of the petition to do away with the Major English Poets sequences altogether; the courses still exist. The reconfiguration also did not refocus the program’s pre-1800 and pre-1900 literature requirement to address issues of race, gender, and sexuality as demanded by the petition.


Because Chaucer and Shakespeare are both studied in English Poetry 1, these expanded options mean that a student could graduate from the program without ever reading either of these authors.

Imagine talking to an English major who has never studied the works of Shakespeare. Hopefully, those students who want to explore these classic works instead of poetry and literature focused on one's gender and sexuality will be able to do so. It will be interesting to see if the classes created in the name of diversity will remain part of the program long-term. 

It is a shame that some students at Yale have dumped the Shakespearean for the Orwellian.