A Response to the WSJ Article from The English Department

In an op-ed published March 30, 2019 in The Wall Street Journal, two of our Villanova colleagues argue the University’s mission has been imperiled because questions about professors’ sensitivity to the diversity of students in their classes have been added to standard faculty evaluations. The op-ed authors suggest that encouraging professors to be sensitive to our students’ various backgrounds, identities and experiences will discourage us from teaching great literature, prevent us from challenging our students and “create an atmosphere of fear-imposed silence.”

The English department wholeheartedly disagrees. We celebrate Villanova’s focus on diversity and inclusion. This initiative calls upon us to reflect and to grow, to engage in dialogue and debate,and to continue to evolve in the best liberal-arts tradition. As teachers of literature, we recognize that our field demands just such dialogue, debate and evolution.

The English Department hopes to attract and welcome students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented at Villanova. Asking how we can do this more effectively is good for our department and good for the entire university community.

Because diverse identities and ideas shape the literary traditions we seek to understand and to teach, we cannot do justice to the texts we read without taking into account histories of exploitation and oppression. Our approach builds upon the most influential developments in literary criticism in the last fifty years, which have featured a dramatic expansion of the literary canon beyond white male authors, the rise of multi-faceted structures of analysis based upon evolving understandings of identity and difference and special attention to the history of subordinated subjects within national literatures. As scholar-teachers, we are honor-bound to share these developments with our students.

Rather than a goal to be achieved, we see diversity and inclusion as a process. We welcome the fact that success requires us to continue learning from each other and from our students. This process does not threaten our profession, our livelihood, or our students’ educations. Quite the contrary: it promises to make our profession more robust, our livelihoods more secure, and our students’ educations more complete.