University Lets Lit Majors Avoid White-Written Classics in Favor of More 'Appealing' Material

(Folger Shakespeare Library via AP)

If you’re planning to major in literature at Northwestern University, there is considerable news: You won’t be made to worry so much with literature. At least, not where the conventional stuff is concerned.


The private Illinois research college previously required majors to take two English and American literature survey courses. But now, attendees can skip over a lot of that jazz.

Even so, students will be made to complete a couple of “Historical Breadth” courses — one each for works created before and after 1830.

For the 2022-23 school year, “Topics in Literature and Culture: Violence” will satisfy the pre-1830 requirement. For later writing, “Introduction to Poetry” or “Introduction to Fiction” (in the Spring) will nicely do.

In the liquor cabinet of literature, it seems the school is trying to let students pass on the hard stuff.

The Daily Northwestern explains:

The English department will change its major and minor requirements to make them more “appealing and accessible”…

The department will adopt “Historical Breadth” courses in favor of survey courses. Specific identity and culture categories will also replace three former required class categories — Identities, Communities and Social Practice; Transnationalism and Textual Circulation; and American literature.

Everyone wants to be in style:

While brainstorming department changes, English Prof. and department Director of Undergraduate Studies Julia Stern said she compared Northwestern’s curriculum with peer institutions. She found NU was one of the only schools requiring survey courses, which are panoramic overviews of a literary tradition for more than 200 years.


Perhaps most importantly, the change can wipe away some old-school whiteness:

Stern said the department’s two introductory survey courses in English and American literature did not make use of its faculty’s expertise, as few professors could teach these courses.

“We had been hiring these fantastic young scholars in African American literature, in Latinx literature, in Asian American literature and in Native American literature,” Stern said. “All of these people were teaching wonderful 200-level courses that weren’t being counted toward the major.”

In education, there’s certainly nothing more modern than “Cast off what’s Caucasian”:

Political Science: Academics Attack the ‘Whiteness in Introductory Physics’

Extremely White College Professor Fights the Lie — and ‘Disease’ — of Whiteness

UC Berkeley Professor Told Students Abolishing Whiteness Means Wiping out White People

Professor Decries Climate Change as the ‘White Colonization of the Atmosphere’

Report: Professor Tells White Student if He’s Breathing, He ‘May Have Oppressed Somebody’ Today

Professor Insists U.S. Is ‘Only for White People,’ Talks ‘Redemption’ When ‘There Is No America’

Back to Northwestern, what might students miss in their avoidance of the outmoded mandate?

The College Fix lays it out:


Across the two-quarters of English Literary Traditions, the (previous) reading list covered a “millennium-long sweep,” including readings from Beowulf and writings by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and T. S. Eliot… Authors covered in American Literary Traditions included Powhatan, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Emily Dickinson.

But there’ll be barrels of wokeness on tap:

Students will…be required to fulfill “diversity” course requirements in topical areas of specialization, such as “Gender, Sexuality & Embodiment,” “Postcolonial & Comparative Literatures” and “Race & Ethnicity”…

Northwestern English students can satisfy their “Gender, Sexuality, and Embodiment” requirement with courses such as “Lesbian Representation in Popular Culture,” “Black Feminist Theory,” and “Sex and the Gothic Girl”…

One literature professor has condemned Northwestern’s contemporary move. Writing to the Fix, Anthony Esolen — of the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College — expressed his disdain:

“As soon as education is bound up with partisan politics, it comes to an end, because no one can speak freely, and political advantage rather than truth is what is prized.”

The professor offered a lesson on diversity:

“Study Chaucer on his own terms, and you’ll have your hands full with diversity. …  [By contrast], reading authors who are considered ‘diverse’ in our time because they adopt a particular brand of politics, and because they come from some group designated as ‘diverse’ because of their ethnic background or sexual habits, is merely to play at diversity.”


Relative to today’s sensibilities, Anthony sounds like he’s pre-1830.

Surrender your stationary, Chaucer; better bards have commandeered the quill:



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