Campus, News

BU English Department considering ways to boost diversity in curriculum, faculty

Boston University’s Department of English held a town hall for faculty and students Friday to discuss ways the department can improve diversity in its curriculum and faculty. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University’s English Department is asking for student input while trying to reform its curriculum by addressing concerns about diversity of faculty, courses and literature within the department. 

The Undergraduate English Literature Association held a town hall Friday to address program concerns and discuss options moving forward.

The town hall focused on the department’s progress in diversifying its faculty and curriculum and creating an open line of communication to students. UELA member Sabine Tessono, a member of the English Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, served as moderator.

During the two-hour meeting, students expressed discontent with the department’s current operations.

“We want you to open up your syllabus and let people in,” said Julie Montana, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, during the town hall. “We don’t need the same old traditional methods.” 

Tessono, a CAS senior, said in an interview she would like to see more transparency from the department, and it is not the students’ responsibility to initiate communication.

“We really underlined that it’s a huge issue within the department that so many students feel so isolated from their professors,” Tessono said, “or just from general news going on with the department.”

Faculty are actively working to meet students’ requests, according to English Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair Maurice Lee.

“The English department has already been taking a number of steps to respond to their concerns,” Lee said in an interview. “But there’s maybe more we can do and we’re interested in talking about that with the students.”

Lee said the department has made efforts to hire more people of color, and the process has been “good but not sufficient.” 

The department also added courses that focus on more diverse texts and people, Lee said, and will continue to do so. He added the department is finalizing decisions about further changes to the curriculum, with hopes to wrap up this year.

UELA President Marie Cantor, a senior in CAS, said in an interview the English Department has expressed interest in changing its curriculum, but students have not seen those changes.

There was no real pressure on professors to include more diverse literature in their courses,” Cantor said. “There was really nothing done. It was a lot of surface-level things.”

Tessono said students have been “craving” real action from faculty for some time now.

“They want to see actual, physical action being put into place,” Tessono said. “While you can say, ‘Oh, we support you. Oh, we understand,’ if you don’t see any action being put into place, then your words don’t really count that much.”

Assistant professor Takeo Rivera, a member of the English Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and one of five professors present at the town hall, said in an interview he would also like to see more diverse English classes, but he has a “glass half-full perspective” about curriculum reform.

“I think that a lot of members of the departmental leadership right now are moving forward very positively in that respect,” Rivera said.

Around 25 students attended the town hall.

UELA released a petition for added diversity and inclusion within the department in October, and the English Department sent an email Oct. 26, writing it plans to survey students about its curriculum.

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