I have loved stories for a long time, ever since my mother and I first picked out Cinderella stories from around the world at our local library. But I have always hungered to hear the stories that have been left untold, in hopes that I can juxtapose one version of a story with another and watch the full story unfold.
The opportunity to take a variety of courses in other departments has enriched my education as an English major in unimaginable ways. Without them, I would not be as acquainted with the multiplicity of stories that exist or the multitude of ways to tell a story. At times, as an English major, I feel as though I am reading texts that feel divorced from the conversations surrounding us in this political moment. When I read Kant as a first year in the Directed Studies program, I felt a distinct sense of abstractness, failing to immediately see how the text connected to the larger world around me.
There were times where courses in the English Department simply weren’t enough to gain an inclusive education. While English poetry and American literature are important foundational courses, it wasn’t until 2017 that we finally had “Readings in Comparative World English Literatures” added as a requirement in the major — and questions as to whether that is enough still remain. In those times, the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program provided the community and depth I had so desperately craved; it’s allowed me to see how ideas of race, class and politics converge, how the same themes arise again and again in the literature, philosophy and history of the past and the present. It was through the lens of my “Spiritual But Not Religious” class, cross-listed under ER&M, that I better understood the cultural themes within texts I was reading for my English seminar — themes that were often left out of class discussions.
When on Friday, March 29, 13 senior faculty withdrew from the ER&M program in response to the University’s neglect of the program, everyone was affected. The ER&M program is vital not just to its 87 declared majors, but also to students in a wide variety of disciplines in the college. The issues of our time — the challenges that immigrants and refugees are facing in the United States, the language of othering that is prevalent in our national politics — are critical for us all to explore and understand. The ER&M program addresses these questions through the lenses of literature, history and theory, bringing us closer to the struggles that those around us are facing, some of whom are our very classmates.
Learning from the faculty of the ER&M program has been invaluable. I’ve been able to take readings and discussions from ER&M classes and apply them to my readings for English seminars, allowing me to see the philosophy of Kant or the story of Daphne and Apollo in a new light. Sometimes, even, ER&M has allowed me to explore literature that the English Department doesn’t include in its curriculum, but is equally if not more critical for a modern-day education. There are political and cultural implications in the texts that I read for some of my English classes that feel divorced from the world, that I can see only after I’ve engaged more broadly with political questions that sometimes arise more explicitly in ER&M courses.
As Yale students, we should be upset at our University’s neglect of ER&M. The University’s failure to legitimize the program, to recognize the significance it has — not only in the lives of the 87 majors and the faculty members but in the lives of all students who have taken courses in the program — is upsetting. Yale supposedly values a broad understanding of the world in its mission of education. As such, it requires all of us to complete distributional requirements, including quantitative reasoning, social science and language components. But what it has forgotten is that ethnic studies is not a supplement to that holistic education — rather, it completes it by filling in the gaps in learning that historically white structures once deemed insignificant.
Thinking about ethnicity, race and migration is important for students who are biology majors, who are English majors, who are theater majors. These questions spill into everything we study and do: in the small interactions we have with one another, in the power imbalances we might notice in those interactions. To neglect the program, then, is to neglect the value of these questions in how we see and experience the world.
Meghana Mysore is a junior in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .