Cornell renames English Department as part of ‘decolonization efforts.’ Check out the new name.
Benjamin Zeisloft, Campus Reform
Cornell University trustees approved a request from faculty to change the “Department of English” to the “Department of Literatures in English” in the interest of fighting racism.
As Campus Reform reported in November, English Department faculty members voted to change the school’s name during their first faculty meeting of the fall semester. Professor Kate McCullough said that the rebranding would help to avoid the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality.”
After faculty overwhelmingly affirmed the measure, they awaited permission from administrators to implement the name change. The Board of Trustees approved the name change in January, and the department’s site currently reflects the new name.
Cornell University spokeswoman Abby Butler directed Campus Reform toward a statement saying that the name change is part of “decolonization efforts” inspired by universities around the world.
According to the statement, Professor Caroline Levine — who supported the measure — said that the “British Empire invented English as an academic discipline as part of a dedicated effort to persuade Indian subjects to view England as a culture superior to their own and so to acquiesce to English rule.”
“The connection between literary studies and political power is nothing new, and as our society has grown more plural, so has our literature,” she wrote in the department’s newsletter. “Today, as our own historical moment is prompting us to reflect seriously on long histories of racism in culture and institutions, it seems important to recognize the many writers of color around the world who are producing literatures in English.”
Levine told Campus Reform that she was referencing Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest, which “argues forcefully that the curricular study of English can no longer be understood innocently of or inattentively to the imperial contexts in which the discipline first articulated its mission,” according to Columbia University Press.
Other universities across the country have considered changing their names in the interest of combating racism.
Dixie State University in Utah, for example, faced calls to change its name due to associations with slavery in the American South. However, the name was derived from St. George’s moniker as “Utah’s Dixie” ever since a handful of families moved to the southwest region of the state to establish a cotton-growing town in the mid-1800s.
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