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
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.
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