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Cornell English Department changes name to avoid perception of ‘English as a nationality’

Faculty at Cornell University’s English Department have voted to change the department’s name so as to avoid the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality.”

According to The Cornell Daily Sun, the move came at the department’s first faculty meeting of the school year, and follows a proposal by “faculty members of color.”

Profs decided on the (new) moniker “The Department of Literatures in English.”

Original name-change proponent Professor Carole Boyce-Davies said English faculty “felt a sense of obligation” to do something following George Floyd’s death and the “resurgence” of Black Lives Matter.

For Boyce-Davies, whose “research and teaching interests” include African diaspora studies, comparative black literature and transnational feminist theory, the new department name would “help advance a discourse that challenges structural forms of racism.”

From the story:

Other faculty simply recognized that it was time that the department’s title represented what it was really focused on: literature written in English.

“In part, it was also a result of an ongoing shift in literary study in this department — and others across the country — to focus on a broader reach of literature,” [Director of Undergraduate Studies Kate] McCullough explained.

The sentiments slowly formed into a plan of action over the summer — led by Boyce-Davies and Prof. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, English — where they began thinking about how to broach the topic with other colleagues. …

Boyce-Davies and Wa Ngugi first introduced the idea to the department’s faculty of color, who supported the move. Early on, they felt some anxiety about the reaction of the rest of the faculty — which was apparently unfounded.

“What surprised us was the fact that so many of the white faculty of the English department signed on — we were amazed,” Boyce-Davies said. “By the time we were ready to officially take it to the department as a whole, we had over 75 percent of the faculty signed on.”

Department Chair Caroline Levine noted the change is not merely symbolic — it’s “in keeping with the University’s call to have us really rethink our everyday practices around racism.”

Read the article.

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