English department changes degree requirements to make programs more accessible, inclusive


Daily file photo by Ava Mandoli

University Hall. The English department updated its major and minor requirements to better reflect the current academic field.

Caroline Brew, Assistant Campus Editor

The English department will change its major and minor requirements to make them more “appealing and accessible,” it announced Friday.

The department will adopt “Historical Breadth” courses in favor of survey courses. Specific identity and culture categories will also replace three former required class categories — Identities, Communities and Social Practice; Transnationalism and Textual Circulation; and American literature.

“No one, including the faculty, can remember what TTC and ICSP stand for, and the American literature requirement is no longer representative of our global moment in literary studies,” the email read.

While brainstorming department changes, English Prof. and department Director of Undergraduate Studies Julia Stern said she compared Northwestern’s curriculum with peer institutions. She found NU was one of the only schools requiring survey courses, which are panoramic overviews of a literary tradition for more than 200 years.

Stern said the department’s two introductory survey courses in English and American literature did not make use of its faculty’s expertise, as few professors could teach these courses.

“We had been hiring these fantastic young scholars in African American literature, in Latinx literature, in Asian American literature and in Native American literature,” Stern said. “All of these people were teaching wonderful 200-level courses that weren’t being counted toward the major.”

Now, with the “Historical Breadth” requirements, students can take any classes that cover at least two centuries of literature in a particular genre, tradition or theme. 

Stern said her next goal was to reconceptualize the English department’s diversity requirements. She described the old categories — ICSP and TTC — as “blurry and confusing.” The new ones — Gender, Sexuality & Embodiment; Postcolonial & Comparative Literatures and Race & Ethnicity — are much more specific, she said.

“We got rid of these icky acronyms,” Stern said. “We now have more transparent terminology.” 

After meeting with committees and drafting these changes for months, Stern said she felt relieved after the department approved the proposed changes in a 29-1 vote.

With the number of English majors declining across the country, Stern said creating less rigid department requirements is crucial to allow more students to study the field. 

“We wanted to open things up as much as we could so that more people could come in, but also demand more in terms of making people more culturally diverse and well-rounded,” Stern said.

Current NU students can choose to follow the old or new major requirements, but those matriculating in or after fall 2022 must follow the new ones.

Medill sophomore Sriman Narayanan, who is double majoring in English, said he is happy about these changes because his favorite English classes covered focused topics.

“The English department here is at its best when you’re taking really specific, narrow lens classes,” Narayanan said. “Giving students the opportunity to take more of those specific classes is always better.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @carolinelbrew

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