Room to write

On the whole, Yale University is good to its writers. The English department is populated by a number of esteemed authors and journalists, each of whom works closely with individual students. Those eager to gain professional experience in the field may seek out formal internships, paid positions in the Writing Center, or membership in campus publications. Even the loveliness of the buildings and grounds is conducive to filling a page. I have written essays about the cemetery, the churches, and Harkness, of course: imperious, ornate, and swollen with the sound of brass on brass.

Most recently, the faculty of the English Department publicized their decision to alter the requirements for the English major, potentially opening up space within the curriculum to pursue writing for craft as a cohesive academic trajectory. According to Yale News, the change was designed to “offer students more flexibility, while increasing the curriculum’s diversity and expanding the literary periods represented.” In years past, students were expected to complete three courses concerning pre-nineteenth-century works, one concerning pre-twentieth-century works, and one concerning iconic American works. Now, as the Yale Daily News explains, admission to the major requires engaging with texts from “every major historical period from medieval to contemporary.” Additionally, the major will increase its representation of women, people of color, and authors from non-English-speaking countries who produced work in English.

This historic decision is worth celebrating in and of itself, considering its implications for a more inclusive learning environment. But for me, news of the change held a particular significance. As an aspiring writer, I had been casually considering the English major since my arrival at Yale eight months ago, but often worried that it might actually restrict my ability to tailor my studies to reflect my creative interests. Specifically, I felt that I would have more latitude to select classes to support my particular stylistic writing objectives if I looked beyond the scope of the former requirements for an English degree. Ideally, the literature I study during my undergraduate years will inform my own writing endeavors, modeling techniques and perspectives that I can incorporate into my personal toolbox. For me, this would mean engaging primarily with a range of modern texts, since the stylistic strategies used by modern writers translate most effectively to my own work. After speaking with my freshman advisor, a professor in the English department, I had begun to plan a self-directed exploration into the writing courses offered at Yale independent of any official academic program. But now, the flexibility and diversity built into the new expectations for the English major have renewed my interest in pursuing a formal academic pathway centered around writing.

In fact, the undergraduate curriculum includes a number of academic programs designed to connect students with Yale’s array of fantastic resources for writing and editing. One primary option is to apply to an advanced journalism seminar through the Yale Journalism Initiative, which invites an acclaimed nonfiction writer to serve the student body as an adjunct professor for one semester. According to Yale’s website, the program also “provides access to summer support for internships, career counseling with a journalism specialist in the Writing Center, and invitations to meet professional journalists at events both on and off campus.” Alternatively, those interested in creative writing can pursue the Writing Concentration within the English major. Again, this route provides additional opportunities to focus one’s academic energies on writing for craft under the mentorship of distinguished professionals in the field.

Nevertheless, the content of these programs had previously seen little overlap with the texts, styles, and perspectives featured in many of the courses required for an English degree. The recent changes to the English major will expose students to a greater variety of narrative voices and styles in the classroom, infusing Yale’s writing community with fresh and more nuanced inspiration to capture on the page.

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