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Faculty optimistic about changes to letters division

Language students and faculty, unsure of their program’s future, received answers earlier this month when the finalized changes to the letters division were announced at an open meeting on Feb. 3.

The most significant structural change to the programs is the consolidation of the French, Spanish, and philosophy departments into the new interdisciplinary department of Languages, Literatures, and Philosophy. French and Spanish are no longer official majors, but students will be able to declare a College Major (a self-designed program of study) in either program. Students who declared a major in French or Spanish before the changes were implemented will be able to retain their program’s major status. Both are still offered as minors.

Brinda Mehta, professor of French and chair of the newly renamed Transcultural Francophone Studies program, explained that the college majors in French and Spanish differ from self-designed college majors in that they derive their course requirements from the already established major programs.

“The good thing about this college major is that it’s been approved by the faculty, so it’s one of the approved college majors,” Mehta said. “[Usually] a student has to basically look around for courses, get three or four faculty advisors, and go through the Academic Standing Committee, [but] this has already been approved.”

The new Transcultural Francophone Studies program places greater emphasis on the literature and cultures of French-speaking peoples of the Caribbean, Africa, and other places formerly under French colonial rule.

New courses offered in this program include “Dangerous Crossings: War, Migration, and Resistance in Francophone African and Middle Eastern Literature” and “Debunking Orientalist Stereotypes: Asian Writings In French.” The newly designed major also has a strong interdisciplinary focus, requiring students to take two pre-approved elective courses dealing with concepts of multiculturalism, in fields such as ethnic studies, philosophy, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and English.

Sophomore and French major Alexa Barger is optimistic about the changes to the French program.

“The name change suggests progress — regarding our understandings of the Francophone world and of French studies,” Barger said in an email. “It’s the beginning of a long-overdue shift from an emphasis on colonized history to a broader understanding of the world.”

Spanish and Spanish American Studies department head Carlota Caulfield announced the inclusion of creative writing in the redesigned Spanish program. Next semester, two new Spanish classes in poetry and prose writing will be added to the curriculum as part of the new program in Spanish creative writing, which will be offered as an undergraduate minor and graduate certificate.

Caulfield says that the core strengths of the letters division — its diverse faculty, its wide selection of courses — remain its chief asset.

“[As a department], we are many different voices,” Caulfield said. “We offer a variety of courses that connect our students with the world.”

Professors across the language departments have been stressing the importance of a foreign language requirement for years, and with the overhauling of the letters division also comes a new general education requirement. The redesigned general education curriculum, effective Fall 2016, requires new students to take one semester of foreign language.

Audrey Calefas Strebelle, professor of French, believes that the new requirement will be instrumental in attracting more students to the languages and increasing the visibility of the letters division — which is especially critical now that French and Spanish are no longer considered “official” majors.

“I think the new major we have in French is a very positive thing, if we can keep having that visibility,” Calefas Strebelle said. “If Brinda and I, and Carlota are able to help students know about the existence of our majors, I think we’re in good shape.”