The time has come for us first-year students to start thinking about modules for next year, and this has brought up a lot of questions for me. I’ve thought about what my interests are, what direction I want my degree to go in, what texts I want to study – but it has also made me think about something more controversial.
There are a lot of modules in my university’s literature course that focus on minorities. We have modules on women writers, Latin American literature, African writing, and many more. There is one module in particular called Queer Literature and Theory, and it’s the main reason I chose to study at the University of East Anglia. This module is for third-year students, so technically I shouldn’t even be concerned about this until next year, but I started thinking: what if I don’t get it? It’s a very popular module, and a lot of students don’t get it because there are just too many who want to study that particular area. This is where my idea for today’s discussion post originated.
I want to make perfectly clear that the question here is not whether minority students stand above everyone else and get to pick their modules first, the question is whether minority students should have the right to get to do the modules that represent their culture, background, and identity.
I am going to talk about this using pros and cons, because I definitely think there is a lot to say on each side of the argument. The pros will highlight why minority students should have priority in choosing their modules, and the cons will highlight why they shouldn’t.
- Students should have the right to study texts that represent them. After reading hundreds of texts by straight-while-males, if there is a module that finally focuses on texts that you can identify with, shouldn’t you have the right to study those texts and be a part of that module?
- Students should have the right to learn about their own history. You probably know a lot about how middle-class, straight, white people lived through history, but what about your own history? I don’t remember ever discussing the way LGBT+ people fought their way through the Middle Ages. I have read about it in my own free time, but I was never academically told anything about it. So I have the right to be part of a module that teaches me my own history … right?
- If you don’t let students who are represented by the texts you’re studying into your module, you will have an unfair discussion. What’s the point of studying queer literature if the people who end up writing essays about it are all non-LGBT+?
- Every student should have the same rights within their course. You can’t really give priority for module choices to certain students because of where they come from or the way they identify. This will just lead to a very complicated discussion about where you draw the line – if some students have more rights than others, where does it stop? And how do you decide what rights to give to whom?
- People who don’t belong to the minority that is being studied should be educated, and thus should be part of the module. If you teach LGBT+ people about other LGBT+ people, they probably won’t learn much about accepting and understanding a minority, because they are just learning about themselves. However, if you teach non-LGBT+ people about LGBT+ people, it might make the world a better place one text at a time.
- Giving minorities special priorities only exaggerates the dichotomy between different people. This is kind of a very fragile argument, and one that can easily lead to dangerous thoughts. The main idea here is that all people are equal, and so no minority student should be treated differently, neither positively nor negatively. But ‘all people are equal’, while a nice thought, is very naive, and it erases the oppression minority groups have faced through history and still face every day. It’s kind of like saying ‘all lives matter’ instead of ‘black lives matter’. The heart of the people who say it is probably in the right place, but they are missing the point and erasing the issue.
This is obviously a very controversial subject, so I would love to hear from you guys. Do you have experience with something like this? Have you ever felt like your seminar group was discussing an issue that no one could really understand because it just wasn’t their own issue? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points I’ve made? And I especially want to hear from people involved in academia – how do you approach this idea?
I am kind of in the middle of both sides of the argument. I want to have the right to study my own identity, but I also think that giving some students more rights than others is a very dangerous thing to do. I hope I have given you something to think about – I am now going to go have food, cause I got so excited about writing this that I put basic survival needs such as nutrition aside, and I am now half dead.
‘Till next time and happy reading!