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English Department Boycott and Effects

From the Williams Record this week:

“In the wake of a student-led protest which called for students to boycott all English classes that “do not engage substantially with race,” Chair and Professor of English Katie Kent ’88 reported that pre-registration in the department was not substantially changed from previous years. “Our enrollments show no significant difference when compared to our usual averages over the last few semesters,” she said.”

As expressed in my post last week (particularly through the comments), I’m in general support of the message of the boycott. Nevertheless, I’m not surprised. English majors continue to need to take English classes; non-majors continue to need writing intensives, and though there are many possibilities for these, English classes continue to be among the most interesting and accessible. Life at the college continues. The point, in my opinion, was never to succeed in boycotting, but to use something as extreme-sounding as a boycott to bring attention to what’s seen as the desperate need of improvement in the department.

On Thursday, the English department announced plans to hold a series of meetings regarding the department’s culture. The meetings are sponsored by the newly created “student experience committee,” which aims to collect student perspectives on the department. In an email to English majors and other students, Associate Professor of English Bernie Rhie said, “As the name of the committee suggests, our aim is to get a more textured sense of the ways that students at Williams experience the English Department. What are your thoughts and feelings about the department, and what are your hopes for its future?” Rhie added that, though the committee was formed prior to the boycott, “the announcement of the boycott obviously makes our work all the more urgent.”

Do I believe that this committee will make any more of an impact than the average Williams committee? Not necessarily. But it does reinforce for me that professors like Bernie–whom I see as the future of the department, and among those who will have the most say in what the English department becomes–take at least the message of the boycott seriously. Perhaps I’m reading that more from my own experience with Bernie than from the quote, but all the same, I believe this is a matter that certain members of the English department take seriously. Whether or not it’s a problem that can be solved by committee, knowing that there are members of the department who support it is, personally, enough–because that’s really the way I see things potentially starting to change.

1 Comment (Open | Close)

1 Comment To "English Department Boycott and Effects"

#1 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 14, 2019 @ 7:28 am

Could someone post a copy of the full e-mail? Future historians will thank you!