Representation Matters: A Look at Our Humanities Curricula

by Giselle Wu


December 14, 2020

We need to integrate books by a more diverse selection of authors into BUA’s English and history curricula. While BUA’s humanities program surely incorporates texts worth reading, introducing us to classical, European, and American literature over the course of three years, most of the books we study are written by white authors. As such, students of color are often unable to see their own identity and culture reflected in our humanities curriculum. The selection of literature at BUA has limited the lens through which students view our society and the world. 

“We can only be diverse as a community if our curriculum reflects our students,” a BUA student says in a response to Student Council’s anonymous Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) survey. The current curriculum does not manage to reflect the BUA community — there is a lack of non-Western literature. Black, Latinx, and Asian authors are largely absent in our humanities program. Yet, according to the DEI survey, more than half of BUA students are students of color. BUA’s curriculum then is not representative of more than half of our students’ identities and thus goes against our aim to diversify our community. Madison Ho ‘24 says, “Although I love the strong emphasis on Western classics, I often feel removed from many of the themes we discuss in class.” And Amelia Boudreau ’23 remarks, “It’s critical that person of color (POC) students see themselves represented in the ideas we appreciate and study at school.” The English and history departments need to consider adding texts with more diverse authors to the literature that we study.

The addition of multicultural literature would furthermore help us to broaden our perspectives and learn more about the world around us. In her 2006 thesis, Maria Boles, a student from Eastern Michigan University, argues that multicultural literature “helps to stimulate an understanding of diversity in the classroom and helps to build an understanding of and respect for people from other cultures” — this is precisely why we need to integrate literature written by a more diverse selection of authors into our curriculum at BUA. Claire Hsu ‘23 says, “I think we should be able to read things by authors with different voices and experiences in order to fully understand our history. For example, I loved that we were able to read a version of The Odyssey that was translated by Emily Wilson because it offered a fresh, new perspective of a woman.”

We cannot rely on a single narrative to accurately represent our history, our present, our future. Isaac Rajagopal ‘23 says, “There’s no excuse for the whole curriculum being taught by white people about books written by white people about white people.” BUA’s curriculum should not be defined by such a limited perspective. 

Our current curriculum does have its benefits. A student who wishes not to be named says that the overall humanities curriculum is good and that there is a fair amount of Black and Latinx history mentioned in the American history curriculum. Nandini Lal ‘23 notes, “I also still don’t think [the curriculum] is bad because the texts that we do read are different enough. Maybe we can just reduce those a bit and add some newer or fresher authors’ books.” The current curriculum, although limited, does offer some different perspectives. But we still need to add more perspectives, ones that can drive us to embrace and respect different cultures. 

And studying these different perspectives is vital to shaping a better future for ourselves. In order to bring our world together, we have to learn to understand, to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, to respect one another. We then need to read books about the experiences of minorities. By diversifying the books that we read at school, we can broaden our own perspectives. Introducing more diverse texts into the humanities curriculum may not be an easy task, but it’s one that’s worth doing and needs to be done. 

Anderson, Jill. “Hooked on Classics.” Harvard Ed. Magazine, Fall 2019.

Boles, Maria. “The Effects of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom.” Eastern Michigan University, 2006.

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