The English Department at the Cornell University decided to change its name in order to help eliminate the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality,” the student-run Cornell Daily Sun reported.
The department at the Ivy League university in New York voted to change its name to "The Department of Literatures in English" at the first faculty meeting of the new semester.
The proposal was put forth by faculty members of color, and was spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, one of the proposal writers, English Prof. Carole Boyce-Davies, told the newspaper.
“Faculty around the country — not just faculty of color, but faculty in general — began to look at the institution to see how we can help advance a discourse that challenges structural forms of racism which get reproduced in students and in teaching over and over again,” Boyce-Davies said.
The proposal was put together over the summer by Boyce-Davies and English Prof. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, and was put in an accessible google document so that others could air their questions and concerns.
The proposal was first shown to faculty of color who supported the idea before it was shown to the white faculty whose reaction they waited for with anxiety. Yet, Boyce-Davies said that they were surprised by the amount of support received by the white faculty of the English Department.
“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.”
The proposal was given to department chair Prof. Caroline Levine with worry that she would not sign it as they expected her to stay neutral in the matter, however the worry was unfounded and she signed it right away. Levine said of her stance that she thinks leadership in circumstances like these is what matters. “This isn’t just us doing a symbolic gesture, this is in keeping with the university’s call to have us really rethink our everyday practices around racism.”