What is happening to my university? Are we undoing all the good we did in the wake of the killing of George Floyd? While reeling over the death of George Floyd, President Martha Pollack spoke truth to the racist system:
Words are important. Words matter. But our words – of sympathy, of support, of shared pain – are not enough. While the challenges are enormous, and we cannot fix them on our own, that does not absolve us from taking whatever steps we can to fight against systemic racism and structural inequality. As a community, we can and must act, through our teaching, our research, and our engagement, to stand up for those who are oppressed or marginalized, to educate ourselves and others, and to work to ensure that we – our entire society – do better.
Out of a feeling of helplessness and a desire to do something transformative, and in response to this new reckoning with racial injustice at Cornell, Professor Boyce Davies and Professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi felt they should encourage a shift in literary study that promotes a broader reach of literature. They proposed that the Department of English change its name to the Department of Literatures in English to eliminate the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality.” The reconceptualization of the department was approved by the Board of Trustees.
The department’s name change marked one of the first explicit and permanent changes aligned with Pollack’s call to action. This was a historical change. Purveyors in white supremacy, including Jonathan Turley, The College Fix, and The Blaze bemoaned the name change, which only confirms the need to de-flate English as a language and English as a nationality.
Also the name of antiracism and decolonization, the Department of English Literatures also reduced the racist requirement for students:
Revolving around a theme of greater diversity within the department, the new curriculum reduces the department’s requirement for pre-1800 courses — which can cover any literature in English written before the 1800s — from three to two, and added two post-1800 course requirements. Of the pre- and post-1800s courses, two must now be focused on literatures of the Americas (with at least one in the American Indian or Indigenous, African American, Asian American and Asian Pacific Islander or Latinx fields) and one must be focused on literatures of the Global South.
Dead men cannot raise themselves. So after all this progress in antiracism and decolonization, why is Cornell University unburying the dead and celebrating the 400th year of the Shakespeare folio?