Response to Gazette's "Diversify Your Syllabi"

All opinions are those of the author.

Gabrielle Drolet’s opinion piece “Diversify your Syllabi” published by the Western Gazette brings to light a common occurance of written works by females and/or persons of colour (POC) being unseen on syllabi for Western’s English Language and Literature program. However, I disagree with some of the points that she argues for, specifically the classes she chooses to highlight.

I was also a student of the History of Theory and Criticism course (2200F) at Western last year. While I agree that there was an unproportional amount of readings from white male authors, it would be unrealistic to see a proportional amount of readings on this course syllabi. The history studied in this course dated from Plato and Aristotle (4th century BCE) to Woolf (20th century CE), with the later authors being a gross leap ahead in time from other readings as a precursor to the non-mandatory follow-up course, Contemporary Theory & Criticism. This follow-up course, which takes up the 19th century forward, featured a nearly perfect proportion between male and female authors (nine male and eight female, discluding collaboration pieces). As 2201G’s course syllabi specifically states that it is exploring “many major movements in modern theory, including feminism and gender theory, psychoanalysis, queer theory, critical race theory, animal studies, posthumanism, ecocriticism, postcolonialism, and Indigenous thought,” it is seen how the precursor course, 2200F, did not focus on including female authors, as was the focus for 2201G (2201G Course Syllabi Winter 2018).

Gabrielle’s choice to criticize the precursor course is unfair towards what the syllabus’ intention was, which was to look at “the most influential ideas in and about the arts from Plato to the turn of the twentieth century” (2200F Course Syllabi Fall 2017). The most influential ideas during those time periods were not female ideas because many were written during times when females were unallowed or unable to write. Furthermore, Contemporary Theory & Criticism (2201G) featured seven authors who were POC, versus nine white authors (not including collaboration pieces). It is my opinion that, in order to draw a conclusion on the lack of diversity in History of Theory and Criticism, it is only fair to look at the follow-up course offered which presents contemporary articles, thus allowing for a more diverse syllabus.

It is my opinion that yes, for most courses their syllabi are not 100% even in the diversity of their readings. However, with a school like Western, looking for a more diverse syllabus is an easy choice, with courses like these being offered this year:

  • 2091F - Special Topics - Forever Young: Literature for Adolescents

  • 2092F - Special Topics - The Many Faces of Harry Potter

  • 3209F - Topics in Theory: Contemporary Topics in Critical Race Studies

  • 3342G - Body, Soul, and Person in the Eighteenth Century

  • 3353G - The Woman Question: Nineteenth-Century Women Writers

  • 3471F - Ballots and Bullets: US Literature and Civil Rights

  • 3572F - Canadian Literature and Multiculturalism

  • 4851F - Seminar in Literary Studies: Creative Indigeneity: Indigenous Literature, Popular Culture, and Film from the Settler Colonies

As an English student at Western, I agree that it is important for students to have a diverse syllabus so that you can hear different perspectives about times in history. However, as most professors at Western would point out, all readings must be taken with a grain of salt. Analyzing how female and POC characters are treated in texts by white male authors gives us a limited perspective of what their lives were like. This is something that I feel I have been taught by almost every professor I have encountered so far.

In response to Gabrielle’s point about modernism, I would like to point out that I took American Literature Survey 2401E with Professor Stanley in 2017-2018, and Nella Larsen was included on the syllabi as part of modernism. Further, one of the issues Stanley brought up with Larsen is that she was unliked by her contemporaries, who thought that her works were not up to par with other authors writing at the time and thus was not taken seriously. Stanley still chose to include Larsen as she did offer a different perspective on Harlem Renaissance.

Overall, I do believe that professors should be keeping in mind how diverse their syllabi are, however, I also believe that it is unrealistic to find a course on the history of theory and criticism that is perfectly diverse because it skews students’ views of what the time was like. Further, I believe that students should also be making an effort to reach out to professors and ask questions about why certain authors were not included on a syllabus which you believe they fit into. If you’re looking for a course that pertains to certain authors, whether it is females, POC or LGTBQ+ people, than I believe the best way to find that course is to speak directly to the department and ask for courses like “Female Authors of Modernism” or “Overlooked Pieces: Looking at Works Often Left Out Because the Author Didn’t Fit the Mold of [insert time period].” For the English program at Western, you can reach the department here. Speak to your professors, they want to help!

 

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