Dear Humanities Instructors:
First of all, we want you to know that we appreciate the Humanities program and the people working tirelessly behind it. We do not profess to know the grand extent to which those in charge of the program dedicate themselves to the work they do. However, we do have some concerns that we would like to explain to you in this letter. We ask only that we be heard—soberly and with consequence—for Sewanee is a place for mutual respect; we have respected you and ask for your respect in return.
The Humanities program is one of great value—it bears the torch of tradition and provides the magnifying glass through which to analyze this tradition. However, in so doing, the program has established a priority list that tends towards a re-affirmation of a perceived “canon” while ignoring scores of voices and perspectives whose arguments are integral to understanding our roots as Westerners.
As students in the Humanities cycle, current and former, we feel that this disparity must be addressed. We enrolled in the course for a variety of reasons, but we all chose to do so based on the manner in which the program was presented to us: as a synthesis of voices from a variety of disciplines from which we would garner a broad yet nuanced understanding of the cultural history that now informs our own. However, we have experienced something closer to a somewhat disjointed series of interjections describing the lives of very specific individuals, whose experiences were rarely if ever representative of the whole.
We do not mean to say that these works are inconsequential. Our concern is not necessarily about the texts themselves, but how they are analyzed and approached in the sequence. We have found that many Humanities instructors resist the request to apply a different set of lenses to the texts, often failing to give voice to the problems, the failures, the sexism, and the racism present in many of the texts we read. Female students are a hefty majority in the Humanities cycle, yet their voices are not being heard, their history disregarded, their roots snapped. Minority students too, are being shuffled to a periphery that cannot and does not represent them, and are being given no recourse through which to learn their history. We resent the apparent assertion that because white men shaped this culture, they deserve to be the primary voices and perspectives considered in our quest to understand it.
The Humanities program describes itself as a program that “presents students with a four-term overview of Western history and culture that is the essence of an undergraduate liberal arts education” and will allow students to “develop the skills of analysis and communication they will need for success in college and beyond.” However, the historical and cultural overview that could in good conscience boast to be the essence of a liberal arts education must not reserve itself for the voices of the majority—must not let itself be piloted by the antiquated worldviews that it seeks to understand.
Furthermore, we speak as intelligent, educated students and as such, we are smart enough to know that we are not being afforded the whole story—we know that we are missing crucial pieces of our culture’s mosaic, and feel obligated to speak up.
Because we too want to see Humanities grow, we ask that these issues be placed high on the priority list of the Humanities program, lest it become defunct in a changing world. We would like to discuss these issues with you in person and ask that you call a “Humanities Forum” where we can begin to develop strategies for addressing our concerns together.
We believe in the Humanities program, and want to support it and watch it continue to positively impact the lives of future students, but we know too that we love better through challenging, and so we challenge the Humanities Program.