-By, Mikayla Chen and Talia Ward
During their sophomore year at Winsor, Class VI English students write the Civil Disobedience paper, an assignment inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government.” Students must find an issue within their community, either large and small, that they have a moral imperative to protest and outline a plan to protest the said issue. In the past, students have written about topics such as the Winsor dress code, the United States justice system, and Massachusetts’ drug laws.
This year, Izzy T. ’19 wrote their paper about the canon of literature that Winsor has us read in our English courses, specifically in our sophomore year U.S. Literature course. She argued that, although the course “claims to accurately represent the voices that create influential American Literature, the Winsor Class VI English curriculum fails to properly acknowledge the voices of many American minorities.”
Izzy decided to follow through with their protest, putting careful consideration into their expression of their civil disobedience. They used social media to ask for recommendations of books written by minority authors. Once the plan was complete, she posted a call to action on various social media platforms.
The actual protest was very peaceful. An anonymous source says, “I was able to go during my free. I read The Color Purple (which I highly recommend) out loud with some friends.” Izzy chose to skip their classes that day. But if someone wanted to participate in the protest and did not want to skip class, they were very welcoming and appreciated any form of support.
This protest was significant particularly because of its timing. It took place the day after the presidential election, a point at which many people felt as though their communities would soon face disenfranchisement at the hands of our new government leaders. Izzy was more inspired than ever to hold this protest to raise awareness about representation in the literature that students read at school.
Though many students expressed their support for the protest. However, many felt that the group of authors in Winsor’s English curriculum is already sufficiently diverse. Some authors that students read in Class VI English include, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Anne Bradstreet, and Harriet Jacobs, all of whom are minorities of some kind. The purpose of the US Literature course is to familiarize students with historical American literature, and some of those pieces were written by white men. Could the course really just skip over social commentaries like The Scarlet Letter or influential writers like Ernest Hemingway? One student said, “I feel like it is logical to go through the course chronologically.”
However, the course description says that the US Literature class should “reflect the history and the culture of our United States.” By only focusing on the classics, a canon that has been defined by greater society, the course ignores the works by American minorities throughout history who were either not published or not read. Because its major readings are from white authors, the course implies that the other works did not have an effect on the history of the United States. A Class VI student who was present at Izzy’s civil disobedience protest, commented, “Although there is diversity in our literature classes throughout our years at Winsor, these ‘diverse’ pieces we read feel more supplemental than the main pieces we focus on.” She noted that, throughout the protest, faculty and staff often stopped and asked about the cause. Ms. Jackson, head of the English department, even spoke with the protesters about their proposed changes in the curriculum.
We believe that this protest was a great way to take action on an issue that many students felt should be addressed. The protest did not blame any one person, but rather called attention to a system in place that does not reflect Izzy’s and many other students’ values. We really respect Izzy T’s bravery and actions to change something they believe is an injustice.