Lunch and Learn Series proves effective for the English department
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Within the English department, teachers have been hard at work to change many long standing aspects of the English curriculum. Books, teaching methods and faculty demographics are being reexamined with a focus on race.
Although there are many factors driving these changes, some of these issues were brought up during the Lunch and Learn Series held last year in several departments. These lunches provided students with a platform to share their opinions and desires for the future of the department regarding the way race and racism is conveyed in the curriculum.
One of the main takeaways from these series was a need to revisit the core curriculum at each grade level. According to English Curriculum Coordinator Mary Burchenal, the department is currently working to change the core books so that they will represent more diverse authors.
“Every department meeting has been devoted to revising our core book lists and making sure each list is diverse by gender and race. We have never had that qualification before for a core book list,” Burchenal said. “There are other forces at work besides this Lunch and Learn series, but this was just one more channeling, focusing and pushing in this direction towards really looking at our core book lists. Everybody is about to make a proposal for the revised book list, so that’s huge.”
In addition to making the books more diverse, the students in the series asked for more relevant and contemporary pieces to be added into their curriculum. Burchenal said that this is one area in which the department made a lot of progress last year.
“I think we have done that relatively rapidly, much more than any other single change in my time period of 25 years. The books have been more diverse, but they’re also books students can relate to more. It’s not just representation, but seeing oneself represented in a way that feels more real to one’s life experience. So we’ve really pushed for that,” Burchenal said. “We also added a new course that’s just started this year called Issues in Contemporary Literature, which was influenced by the Lunch and Learn about being more about contemporary literature.”
According to Dean of Faculty and English teacher Jenee Ramos, the goal is not to get rid of classics but find a way to combine them with more relevant literature.
“I’m not saying that we do away with Huckleberry Finn,” Ramos said. “I think it’s an important book, but what else can we accompany that with, what can bring along side that, that feels relevant, that feels timely, that’s important for your lives right now and for what you’re thinking about?”
Both Ramos and Burchenal said hiring more teachers of color was one of the main takeaways of the Lunch and Learn Series. According to Burchenal, it is important that students feel like the teacher is on board and understands the concerns of students when talking about race.
Ramos said she would like to see the Lunch and Learn Series continue, and she believes that other adults in the department would like to as well.
“I think it is great, and the English department had a good number of students that came. It was their lunch time and they could have been doing anything, but they came,” Ramos said. listen “I would love to do it again, and if I could find out that students would be wanting it and would come, we would put that on in a second.”
Click here for more coverage on students’ opinions about core books.