There are now three new minors in the Department of English — English, Creative Writing, and Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies. The minors are available to all current and incoming students at Cornell.
According to Prof. Andrew Galloway, English, the three distinct minors allow students in other majors to explore the variety offered by the English department.
“We’re addressing the kinds of things that we’ve done in the major in a way that allows them to be discrete and identified,” Galloway said. “This gives people who aren’t majoring in English a chance to see the ways they can focus their course pursuits in English … We want to expose students in other majors to what we have. I think that’s a mission that is important on our side.”
According to senior lecturer Stuart Davis, English, the minors also give students who have taken English electives in the past the opportunity to achieve official recognition on their transcripts.
“We think it’s important to recognize students’ efforts when they take courses in chunks smaller than the major,” Davis said. “We [also] think it’s important to help them plan so that if they’re doing a series of creative writing courses, they aren’t just going all over the place … It’s good to help students structure their programs by giving them more choices and then by indicating patterns.”
Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, said the structure of the new minors allows students to “start to think about how each course is related to the others [they] are taking … The idea is basically to enrich the educational experience of undergraduates. I think this is a great development.”
Some upperclassmen, however, said they found the curriculums for the Creative Writing and Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies minors limiting, compared to that of the broader English minor.
Jen Werbitsky ’13, an applied economics and management major, said that she has taken one or two English electives each year and would have liked to graduate with a Creative Writing minor. However, due to the minor’s more stringent requirements — which require students to choose from a list of specific courses — she will only be able to complete the English minor.
Still, Werbitsky said she thinks the introduction of the new minors is good for the department.
“I’m really glad they’re doing it, because the feeling I got when I realized I’m actually going to minor in English was a very powerful moment for me,” she said. “That was when the saying ‘any person ... any study’ became reality for me. I think it’s wonderful that they’re putting this in the realm of possibilities for people outside of Arts and Sciences.”
Another possible outcome of the new minors is that students who would have otherwise double majored with English and another discipline could decide to pursue a single major with an English minor instead, according to Davis.
“What this change means is that many people will be able to think more clearly about their priorities and maybe not complete two majors, but rather one major and one minor,” Davis said. “There are those in the [Arts and Sciences] administration who don’t think that double majoring is a good idea and are therefore promoting the creation of minors as an alternative.”
With the new minors, there is also more flexibility in choosing coursework, according to Galloway.
“I think that double majoring has its costs on people’s flexibility in what they take,” he said. “Minors are just kind of a middle ground focus to address the interests of people who won’t have time to actually major or double major in English.”
Prof. J. Robert Lennon, English, said that the minors will hopefully “generate more interest, across all of Cornell’s schools, in the excellent classes we have [in the department] … We hope they will keep our classes filled, provide our students with evidence on their transcripts of their hard work and allow us to teach new and interesting subjects.”
In addition, Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English, said he hopes that the MITW minor in particular will allow students to learn more about Cornell’s history, particularly through the minor’s required indigenous studies course.
“I think everyone at Cornell should have to take at least one course in indigenous studies so that they know where they are and the history of it,” Cheyfitz said. “Nine-tenths of the students here, unless they’ve taken an American Indian studies course, are probably not going to know about [things like] the traditional homeland of the Cayuga people, which is where Cornell sits … Taking any of these courses will help broaden their perspective.”
Mohanty said increasing the enrollment of non-majors in English courses will also have an impact on the department.
“I enjoy teaching classes in which there are students from different academic backgrounds,” Mohanty said. “I just think that’s good. Literature courses aren’t just for people who are majoring in English, French or Comparative Literature. The idea of having a minor simply increases the kind of diversity of the students we will be [teaching].”