An Education in Imaginative Reasoning

Our Mission

Central to the core mission of the Department of English is imaginative reasoning: the ability to think hypothetically about the world in all its diversity—the past, present, and future; the local and the global—in order to engage critically with social and political phenomena, envision what is possible, and dream up audacious solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.

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Our Core Values

  • Pursuing social justice
  • Affirming diversity
  • Engaging with a broad array of real and imagined communities based on empathetic understanding
  • Fostering a sense of belonging
  • Instilling a desire for civic engagement

Departmental Commitment to Anti-Racist Action

June 2, 2020

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN, sparking a wave of justified protests across the country and eliciting responses of solidarity and outrage from abroad. This murder was another in an all-too-long history of racist murders perpetrated by white people against African Americans (as well as other minoritized people) in the United States, a history that also includes the murders of, most recently, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, in our own state, James Scurlock.

The U.S. criminal justice system has once again responded to the murder of black men and women in entirely inadequate fashion. Its failure to respond adequately is not an isolated incident, however; instead, it is symptomatic of the simple fact that racism in the U.S. is systemic and structural in nature: it is the direct expression of a white supremacist ideology that is not merely espoused by a few "bad apples" but rather deeply embedded in the country's allegedly democratic institutions, whether political, cultural, social, or educational.

The mission of the Department of English at UNL commits its members to a shared belief that our collective work as scholars, writers, teachers, and citizens of various communities should be guided by an unwavering affirmation of diversity; a staunch desire to foster for all people, without exception, a sense that they belong; and the knowledge that social justice never exists if it does not exist for all people, not least people who have historically been and continue to be marginalized, frequently by violent means.

Today, as yesterday, we would be lying if we claimed that we are anywhere near to living in a context in which justice for all is even remotely the case; today, as yesterday, we'd be lying if we claimed that we lived in a context where all are equally made to feel they belong. For this reason, it is not enough to mourn the loss of the lives needlessly lost and to collectively express our sadness, our horror, and indeed our anger and outrage at these most recent attacks on black people across the U.S.—though we do this, too. Nor is it enough to proclaim that we collectively stand by our Black colleagues (faculty, staff, and students) in our department, across campus, and across the country—though we do this, too.

There is no doubt that our Black (as well as all other minoritized) colleagues—faculty, student, and staff—are angry and demand action. Their anger and their demand for action deserve unqualified, unequivocal recognition and support by all of their colleagues.

Action is what is needed, for well-meaning words have been uttered too often without resulting in the necessary systemic change that is required to stop this history of murder of people of color. Indeed, well-meaning words have (unintentionally) served as ideological cover for the continuation of systemically racist action, which these words have had no power to stop.

Action is what is needed, starting at “at home,” where we are.

As a department, therefore, we commit ourselves to use our own resources to further reflect on systemic inequities that exist in our own processes, and we actively invite critique of racism and white supremacy embedded consciously or unconsciously in our curricular, co-curricular, and professional practices. To this end:

  • We will structure a series of listening sessions, beginning immediately, in which our Black colleagues (students, staff, and faculty) will be invited to speak while the rest of us listen and take notes; then, together as a department, we will design a process for the implementation of positive change.
  • We will commit ourselves to continue re-designing our curricular and outreach activities to deepen our collective efforts to advocate for social justice. We will ask every member of the Department to participate in a "common read" and discussion of Ibram X. Kendi's book How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, and we will repeat this with every entering cohort, updating the common read selections, until racism in this country ends.
  • We (especially department leaders) will continue to strongly advocate for the safety and security of our Black faculty, staff, and students to all levels of the university.

Moreover, as a Department, we call on the University to implement a sequence of mandatory educational activities, which should be spread across all four years of the trajectory of every college student: rather than a one-off effort at the start of a student's college career, the University needs to create structures that increase, develop, and positively reinforce what is taught, and learned.

In order to make this logistically viable, we furthermore call on the University to invest in a cluster hire, across all disciplines, in scholarly and creative activities focusing on minoritized cultures, including not least African American people and culture and scholars who can lead our institution in an interrogation of the scientific, social scientific, and humanistic practices infused with white supremacy that have been culpable, and continue to be culpable to this day, in perpetuating structural racism.

Chancellor's Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner's Profile Image

In the spirit of protest and concern, we share here a new poem by Kwame Dawes, "Yard Boy," that speaks to our moment.

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Careers in English and Film Studies

Endless Possibilities

When people think of jobs for English majors, they usually think of teaching, writing, and publishing. And it’s true, English majors can find excellent careers in those professions. But the options really are endless. An English major serves a variety of roles in students’ lives, including:

  • a base for beginning study in creative writing, ethnic studies, film studies, Great Plains studies, linguistics and women’s studies
  • a pre-professional program teaching at the secondary and college level
  • a pre-professional program for careers in law, medicine, and business
  • a classical liberal education major for those interested in developing analytic and communication abilities that underlie most professions in American society

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Activities

In addition to regular courses, we encourage you to seek experiences outside of class that will help enrich your studies and focus your career path. These might come in the form of an internship, a research position, a volunteer opportunity, or a semester abroad.

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