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Reading Lit Hum’s Rapes

Every sexual assault in Lit Hum, post-it'd.

Every sexual assault in Lit Hum, post-it’d.

While Bwog is generally not about the op-ed lifestyle, sometimes we’re tipped articles that we think are important to talk about. The following was sent to us by CC first years Miles Hilton, Lara Tang, and a third writer who wished to remain anonymous. This piece does not reflect the opinions of Bwog or its staff.

Love it or hate it, the Core is Columbia College’s backbone. It was the first part of Columbia thrust upon prospies and first years alike and many incoming students were thrilled to be handed copies of The Iliad over the summer. When I picked up my Alumni Association-stickered edition, I had the sense that some kind of essential knowledge was being passed to me from the older generation. Yet as I read through the syllabus I began to wonder what I was supposed to be learning, especially about rape and the treatment of marginalized peoples.

So I started reading these books in the context of Columbia’s discussion of rape culture, the campus climate, and administrative reforms. Specifically, I looked at the relationship between the Lit Hum curriculum and the work being done by student activists like No Red Tape, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, and the 23 students who filed Title IX complaints against Columbia University.

I went through the syllabus page by page (becoming probably the only student to do so) and annotated every instance of rape, assault, or other non-consensual activity. In the first semester, a quarter of the characters were women and about 20% of those women were raped, which is on par with conservative estimates of rape on college campuses. The second semester had a much higher figure than the first, around 50%, mostly due to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (which has roughly 80 instances of assault). Even this number is an underestimate, though, as I treated many of the instances of mass rape on the syllabus as a single data point for simplicity. It’s worth noting that these mass rapes were almost always directed at a conquered group—think about the “victory tour” after the Trojan War portrayed in The Odyssey. Far from being confined to works written by the guys carved into Butler, however, these tactics are still used in imperialist warfare today.



Most Lit Hum classrooms do lip service to misogyny in the syllabus, often around the time Metamorphoses comes up, but the discussion rarely progresses to Columbia itself. The Core is at the center of the University’s collective imagination which, according to Columbia, “encourages students to become critical readers of the literary past we have inherited.”

“Literary past” is a funny term. It’s presented as a cohesive, organic whole, independent of human influence or fabrication, and as the be-all and end-all of intellectualism and literary value—the names of the writers have been literally imprinted into the architecture of the school itself—yet the Western canon is actually very limited. Lit Hum (and the Core in general) includes almost no writers of color or women. The Great Books are really just Western European, for the most part. The literary past we as Columbia students are inheriting is, as has been said again and again, primarily white and male.

When the Core was first introduced to Columbia, this was less of an issue—most of the students were white, male, and generally wealthy. This is no longer the case. Some of us are activists. Some are survivors. Many are triggered by the mere mention of certain types of violence, which is especially difficult to avoid in a mandatory course. Hopefully, we are the kind of students who care, not just about grades and summer internships, but practicing basic human respect and kindness. “Diversity” on this campus has to be about more than sticking token identities on the cover of an admissions pamphlet. If our diversity is so celebrated, then, it’s time for the university to stop assuming that we will all share neutral responses to often violent and triggering material.

Going further, what “inheritance” are Columbians being asked to accept? Inheritance, by definition, is a gift that can’t be refused—Lit Hum is a large part of Columbia’s culture, we all get to pretend to have read the same books together. Yet our intellectual inheritance is oddly specific and often shoved down our throats by the administration as absolute and inalienable—we’re asked to be “critical readers,” sure, but rarely to critically examine the content of the texts themselves.

Our literary heritage has largely been imposed on us. We’re expected to internalize the limited subjectivities and Lit Hum and pass them down to future generations. At the same time, we’re expected to renounce our “chosen” literary family, the authors who may share identities with us, speak to our struggles, or express our ideologies. By presenting the Western canon as the only canon worth considering, the Core implicitly tells students that any identities of theirs that aren’t in line with the dominant system are inherently less valuable. Refusing this self-normalization is often seen as abandoning the “quest for knowledge,” whatever that means—or that we’re being “too PC,” whatever that means.

Beyond a critical discussion of rape in Lit Hum, Columbia must question the place of any single canon at the university. Any syllabus that’s presented as all-encompassing will force at least some students to self-normalize. Violence—rape, the absence of women and people of color—should not define this campus. Even Literature Humanities’ name fails to live up to its promise: there is more to humanity than white people or men.

I get it—it’s finals, it’s hard to care about even writing papers, much less critically re-evaluating the reading list of the Core. But think about the parallels between the imposition of normalized rape on our entire student body and the culture we’ve been working to build. A university that uncritically accepts rape in its foundational literature class, without any thoughtful discussion directly addressing rape and sexual assault, must question its ability to firmly reject rape and sexual assault on campus. The same can be said of Lit Hum’s other violences: a campus with this syllabus at its core will never be proactive in addressing the needs of students of color, queer and trans students, disabled students, low income students, or any other marginalized groups. Lit Hum is supposed to be the intellectual starting point on this campus, yet it can also be a violent tool of homogenization when left unexamined. If we don’t think it through, we become complicit in that violence. To amend the intro of Kant’s “What is Enlightenment,” dare to think.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is ridiculous. You don’t get to choose what has already been written in the literary classics. So we just don’t read anything ever the works contain violent/sexually violent moments? They Odyssey just doesn’t matter anymore because of those instances in the content? It’s not the content we’re reading, but how we choose to discuss it and absorb it that contributes to rape culture.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous The Odyssey*

    2. Actually says:

      @Actually I don’t think that’s the authors’ point — they’re saying that a lot of times this material goes unexamined and unproblematized.

      As they said: “Most Lit Hum classrooms do lip service to misogyny in the syllabus, often around the time Metamorphoses comes up, but the discussion rarely progresses to Columbia itself.”

      Of course, these are valuable texts, but I think it’s important to think about what’s in the tradition that we’re inheriting and to be critical about what’s normalized and what’s missing. Neither of my LitHum teachers (I switched sections second semester) spent any class time on that.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous See I understand the need to “problematize” the texts which I think ultimately needs to come from both the professor and the students, but I don’t understand the leap from saying that “these books feature a lot of rape and murder” to “these books internalize a value system that is OK with rape and murder.” Frankly, it seems like a leap (to me) to argue that even the texts find rape morally sound – just as an example, Metamorphoses certainly contains a worrying amount of rape (and just for the record, I remember having some fascinating conversations about its presence) but rarely does it portray it as without consequence or unobjectionable – women are frequently so grief-stricken that they have no alternative but suicide or transformation, and in a myth like Actaeon’s, the male gaze and sexual voracity is actually punished by emasculation by a woman. As for instances within the Odyssey and the Iliad, what I think is valuable (to a degree) about these texts is that they are strikingly un-moralizing, and provide substantial room on either end to find villains, heroes, virtues and vices. And DEFINITELY – discussion should be had! After all, the authors aren’t sidestepping these issues. Who is? Seems to me like students and faculty.

        I want to have a civil discourse about this instead of blowing up in rage or whatever, so I hope this doesn’t come across that way, but surely the mere presence of an act within a text doesn’t validate its morality, right?

        There’s certainly room for criticism within the core, and I believe that critiquing these texts and their authors that (I believe) have had outsize influence on Western society is a vital part of coming to an understanding of the world’s prejudices and problems today – after all, they didn’t come from nowhere. I know this may sound very bizarre, but going through the Core (especially CC) has allowed me to truly look at some of my internal prejudices and problematize them by understanding some of their cultural roots.
        I’m disappointed the larger conversation turned into a dialogue about the whiteness and maleness of the authors because while that’s a valuable discussion to have, it’s not the same as the conversation about instances of rape within the LitHum syllabus.

        1. CC '17 says:

          @CC '17 Personally, I don’t think that the author wants you to “blow up in rage,” and what you’re advocating (an open discourse) is exactly what she wants.

          My professor was fantastic, and he discussed a lot of the issues with sexual assault and violence in the books that we read, but he also raised this question of how the authors really felt about them. I think that it’s a valid one. I don’t think that including rape (for example) in a novel is proof that you condone it, but it’s also not proof that you condemn it. I certainly see the point of this Bwog writer in that the LitHum texts normalize serious issues. When so many novels mention rape and murder offhandedly and don’t go deeper, it’s reasonable to think that that can have an effect on how the reader thinks about the issues. This problem may be a byproduct of the times in which they were written, but I know that a lot of the classes never discuss it in detail as problematic.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Go away.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous War is bad: no more Thucydidies.

    Too heteronormative: adios Don Quixote.

    Where are the gay couples? See ya Jane Austin.

    Democracy > monarchy: so long King Lear.

    1. Jane says:

      @Jane Austin

    2. Nope... says:

      @Nope... Did you even read the piece?

    3. Lucy says:

      @Lucy Thucidides

  • anon says:

    @anon ” Lit Hum is supposed to be the intellectual starting point on this campus, yet it can also be a violent tool of homogenization when left unexamined.”

    yes, yes, YES

    1. Great says:

      @Great So let’s examine it. In fact, we are examining it. I don’t know about you, but tearing the white, male authors to shreds for their politically incorrect views and misogyny was a common occurrence for me in both CC and Lit Hum. Context is a useful tool, though, in taking into account in the cultures these authors came from. Thinking is good, yes. Criticism is also good. But if the action item here is to begin to remove these works from the Core, then we are no longer thinking. Instead, we are censoring.

      1. anon says:

        @anon I don’t see why removing works from the core is so bad. You need to take someone out to make way for the texts that have been deliberately silenced for a very long time.

      2. Also.. says:

        @Also.. It’s not censoring if you’re deciding based on merit. You seem to think that the texts in Lit Hum are “unquestionably” valuable and inherently brilliant. Let me ask you this: have you ever thought about, you know, how the canon was formed? Have you ever looked into the historical factors that went into the creation of the canon as we know it? Because I hate to break it to you, but the canon didn’t just appear over night, nor was it sent to us by some deity. Their status as “great works” is far from the ontological state that Lit Hum would have us believe. That’s a big fat lie, if I ever heard one. Rather, that status was created in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts. These are the contexts worth looking at; I’m seriously going to puke if I hear another “oh he was a product of his time” argument again.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous but they were products of their time. your opinion is a product of our time, is it not?

          1. OK but says:

            @OK but the times were also a product of their opinions.

        2. Foucault says:

          @Foucault What he said

        3. CC 2014 says:

          @CC 2014 I really don’t think people are grasping the criteria for selection of works in Lit Hum and CC. While some nebulous notion of “quality” is perhaps an aspect of the criteria for selection, selection is more significantly about (and in my Core classes it was presented to me) as being related to what has been influential in history, and what reflects major intellectual trends. By reading works that have been “silenced from the canon”, or reading works that are less influential but more congenial to our predilections, we risk fundamentally distorting our sense of our literary and intellectual history.

          Note, it is not important that we affirm the works we read in Lit Hum and CC as in some sense better than other works, just that we understand how they reflect a lineage of thought that exists in our world today. To take your example of rape in the Core texts. If you go beyond a simple numerical assessment of the number of women raped in these texts (which is a highly problematic way of asserting their perspectives on rape-does Apocalypse Now endorse war crimes?) you can actually learn a lot about rape culture through analysis of works that have been important in creating rape culture. Concepts such as blaming the victim, the differential value of male and female virginity and sexuality, and the sexual double standard regarding promiscuity can all be related to cultural trends that begin all the way back in the classical period, when Roman women were expected to kill themselves if they were raped, male-on-male love was considered better because women were seen as degenerate (Symposium anyone?), and in which women were bought and sold as property (The Iliad). Regardless of how problematic these values and works are, the very fact that they have been so influential throughout history means that they merit study, if only to understand how they have contributed to current cultural values (some positive, some negative).

          Yes, it is difficult to hear about these historical realities, and I’m sure it’s difficult for victims of sexual assault to read about them, but isn’t an essential step in fighting these cultural realities understanding their roots? Yes, this depends on professors being more sensitive and better teachers, but that’s a pedagogical problem across the hundreds of Lit Hum teachers, not a problem with the syllabus necessarily.

          And this is leaving to the side any conception of the positive insights about life that many of these texts can bring, or the sad reality that because of cultural oppression and misogyny, a majority of extant literary works existing were written by white men. (although I don’t think its accurate to call classical authors “white”, since racial categories were not institutionalized in that form. They would be more likely to think of themselves as citizens, or members of particular tribes. It’s such a non-issue in classical times that we still don’t know for sure if St. Augustine was “black”, since it was never mentioned either way).

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Thank you so much for writing this!

  • every bwog commenter sucks says:

    @every bwog commenter sucks and I salute bwog for writing this. I honestly don’t get how you people just like, write papers about critical thought, get talked to about doing deeper investigations of things, problematize issues, and yet still have these views!? crazy cynicism aside, this piece is very insightful.

    1. "I salute bwog for writing this" says:

      @"I salute bwog for writing this" did you even read this

  • well shit says:

    @well shit Lit Hum is officially called “Masterpieces of WESTERN Literature and Philosophy” for a reason – how many POC authors do you expect to see?

    One of your concerns is that the Core is heavily Westernized, which could be the case. However, our nation’s cultural heritage (which should be learned, obviously) is undeniably Western and based on important Western authors. First and foremost attention should be paid to that understanding without being overly Eurocentric.

    There’s no way to create a Lit Hum syllabus without triggering or offending people in a certain way. Trying to do so would severely dilute the quality of these “Great Books” (might as well read children’s books – no conflicts or rapes or offensive material there, amirite?) The literary merit of these books is unquestionable – it’s just a matter of relating them to current events (on-campus and globally) and probing deeper into these texts. Which I hope is your point, given that some commentators thought that you were pushing for censorship/radical revision

    Also, I know that this isn’t bwog’s opinions – gold star for me??

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous “how many POC authors do you expect to see?”

      Oh of course the West has noooo POC writers historically. Non at all. POCs absolutely did not exist before. They are a modern day invention.

      “However, our nation’s cultural heritage (which should be learned, obviously) is undeniably Western and based on important Western authors.”

      I am not exactly sure were to start with this. I am not sure who you mean by “our nation’s heritage” but I am going to guess that you missed a very important point this article makes. Whose heritage are you talking about? What nation?

      If what you mean is the US then let me tell you that this “nation” is not a purely white nation. As a matter of fact, this country was built on a land that was stolen from POCs and built by people who were enslaved by white people.

      If the par that “should be learned, obviously” is the tradition of white supremacist attitude, racism, genocide and misogyny I wouldn’t say it has to be learned “obviously” or at all.

      ” dilute the quality of these “Great Books””

      Okay so you are more or less saying that including non-white non-male author would mean including low quality writing. Wow. This post keeps getting more racist by the word.

      “The literary merit of these books is unquestionable”

      Sorry to break it to you: it is.

      “Which I hope is your point, given that some commentators thought that you were pushing for censorship/radical revision”

      ……again you clearly did not read the same thing I read. I think radical revision might be exactly what the author is hoping for.

      1. Wow says:

        @Wow that first comment (“well shit”) just got eviscerated. Clearly some of us learned critical thinking skills in Lit Hum and others, not so much.

      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous No one is saying books by POC are terrible. You are misunderstanding the earlier comment.
        Have you ever read “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf? The point is similar. It is not that women are inferior and were unable to produce literature at the time. It was that the conditions made it nearly impossible for women to write — many Jane Austens, Bronte sisters, etc. were lost to the annals of history simply because they never had the opportunities afforded to men at the time. Yes, there were no great works in the Western canon written by POC historically — but this is not to say that POC are incapable or unintelligent or even uninterested in literature. Quite the contrary: this is a condemnation of white Europeans for creating conditions which were restrictive to POC, women, Jews, etc.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous And by the way, have you heard of the Global Core? Or are we going to pretend that doesn’t exist?

    2. CC '17 says:

      @CC '17 The point isn’t to have a syllabus that’s clean and pure and PC. For me, the point would be to have the classes focus more on these issues. But I also really question the idea that these are the “great books” of history of the highest quality. There are books of great literary merit that were not included in the syllabus, were written by people who were not white or male, and are from “Western literature.”

      I agree that there were much fewer options for the large first chunk of LitHum, but I think that it would have been worth the effort to add more at the end to give a different sense of perspective. I mean, yes, there really are more white male authors throughout most of history than there are other authors. But why is it that we have so few works of literature from the last few centuries? Time-wise, The Iliad was written in maybe 700 B.C. We started the next semester with The Aeneid in 30 B.C. And then we sped through millennia until we got to the twentieth century. Would it really be censorship to argue that we could even the timeline to get more non-white, non-male authors included from the last few centuries? We only read four books written in the last five hundred years.

  • Brick says:

    @Brick LOUD NOISES

    1. gotcha says:

      @gotcha you rock

  • Peter Griffin says:

    @Peter Griffin There are entire majors and intellectual fields dedicated to studying what you’re interested in. Please go away. If you don’t like the Core, go to Brown.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous It’s not about personal “interest.” It’s about which voices are established and enforced as universal. Why should these voices be accepted as the universal default for being “cultured” or “educated” while others are regulated to “special interest” classes?

      The fact is that right now, Columbia, a respected and influential university, is enshrining these violent and problematic works as “masterpieces.” And whether it is intended or not, that gives the ideas in them a sense of inherent acceptability. Someone going to Brown won’t change that.

      Really, I don’t have a problem with learning about any of these books, but can we drop the “masterpieces” label and just admit that we are talking about a constructed Western Canon which (like most things) has a whole lot of problematic shit in it? And do we have to learn about *only* these books?

      1. Peter Griffin says:

        @Peter Griffin No. You don’t have to learn about “only” these books. There are so many other classes that you’re encouraged to take to learn about all these things that you are clearly also interested in. There’s a whole literary tradition that responds to the canon in the exact same way that you are doing right now. Many of brilliant intellectuals that agree with you. It’s not COLUMBIA who decides that these are the masterpieces. They are masterpieces of Western literature because they form its foundation; literature responds, extends, or reacts to this tradition. And the reason that you are learning it is so that you can make comments like these.

        You are, above all else, and whether you like it or not, a LitHum success story.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous I’m just saying lets not ignore the fact that LitHum is mandatory and these other classes/texts are optional . . . That does show something about values.

    2. Bam says:

      @Bam just cuckolded these feminizes

      boo yah

  • 2 cents says:

    @2 cents My professor, acknowledging the shitty lack of perspective shown in CC, wondered aloud if it really matters how the texts present opinions and who writes them. That got me to thinking that it’s really up to the professors to work with with any set of texts to talk about all of the issues that need to be discussed in the world. I wonder if a discussion about rights, the relationship of the individual to the community, or any other theme in any core class (CC, Lit Hum, East Asian texts, Latin American texts, etc) should really not be able to hit upon salient, uncomfortable points if you have a probing professor and an engaged group of students, regardless of the original text.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The problem isn’t Masterpieces of Western Lit. The problem is the lack of an equivalent with regards to global lit and philosophy. Global Core is such a broad, easily met requirement that it winds up being nowhere near as “comprehensive” as Lit Hum. And also, YES re not blindly accepting the “classics” as having merit.

  • miaou says:

    @miaou PREACH (and also LOUD NOISES)

  • Froshies says:

    @Froshies it seems that you were focusing on the wrong aspects of these works. You’ve wasted a good year.

    1. a froshie says:

      @a froshie You clearly wasted a good year drinking up the kool-aid.

  • manan says:


  • lol @ says:

    @lol @ all the people up in arms about “censorship ooohhh nooo what about our intellectual freeedommmsss”

    (besides the obvious point that this editorial isn’t AT ALL calling for censorship of the core, only a more critical discussion of why we use these texts and how they might be harmful on a larger scale)

    do u know how the canon came to be?

    hmmm maybe it was the systematic silencing of any voices outside the dominant pov and a long legacy of ignoring the contributions of marginalized people HMMMM

    idk we wouldn’t wanna CENSOR anyone tho god forbid

    1. Peter Griffin says:

      @Peter Griffin The canon did not come to be by “the systematic silencing of any voices outside the dominant pov and a long legacy of ignoring the contributions of marginalized people”

      Just no. That’s just not true.

      First of all, in a finite collection an inclusion implies an exclusion.
      Second of all, just because the Core is predominantly white and male does not mean minorities are systematically ignored.

      1. seriously? says:

        @seriously? You maintain that “the canon didn’t come to be by systematic silencing” but you admit that “inclusion implies exclusion”? I think you just contradicted yourself there.

      2. Seriously? take two says:

        @Seriously? take two “just because the Core is predominantly white and male does not mean minorities are systematically ignored.”

        Did I read that correctly? You’re doing a great service to these “masterpieces” with your masterful ability to construct a coherent argument.

      3. Please, says:

        @Please, You wrote: “The canon did not come to be by “the systematic silencing of any voices outside the dominant pov and a long legacy of ignoring the contributions of marginalized people”

        Just no. That’s just not true.”

        Enlighten us, oh great Professor Emeritus Griffin, about the history of the formation of the Western Canon.

        You see, us people of color and women are just dying to be saved by your supreme wisdom.

        1. Get over yourself says:

          @Get over yourself Oh person who speaks for all women and people of color… kindly stop savoring the smell of your own farts long enough to realize you sound like a righteous prick.

      4. lol says:

        @lol and now i’m laughing at you

    2. Cory Fitz says:

      @Cory Fitz Why does it matter if voices were silenced in the creating of the canon? Of course they were. And that was wrong. But because they were, the bulk of good literature that became the foundation of Western literature was written by white men. So if you want to learn about that, you have to read a lot of books written by white men.

      1. nope says:

        @nope “the bulk of good literature”


  • Peter Griffin says:

    @Peter Griffin “Literary past” is NOT a funny term. These books are not arbitrarily chosen “as the be-all and end-all of intellectualism and literary value”. The point of these books is that they make up the foundation for most of literature. In one way or another all literature is responding or rejecting or reacting in some way to the ideas and worlds presented in these texts. IN THE EXACT SAME WAY that you are reacting. If you had never read these texts, your op-ed would have no meaning. You’re doing the same thing that generations of writers have done–responding to the tradition.

  • Someone who is sick of Columbia students' obsession with PC says:

    @Someone who is sick of Columbia students' obsession with PC You want to read books by authors of color, transgender authors, women, etc? Go take a specific class on those. The truth is that very few people of the aforementioned categories were allowed to / were capable of (because of lack of education) writing literary masterpieces before the 20th century. Then, those who did get the chance to receive that education in the 20th C, read all the authors we have read in LitHum, and based a lot of their works on them. So cut the crap and be happy that you’re lucky enough to have the chance to be taught these fundamental masterpieces of western philosophy and literature. You have to have read these books before you go on and read any other, and unless you want the LitHum curriculum to get twice as long (seeing as you have lots of free time on your hands and no life, you might not be opposed to it, but some may be) quit whining and enjoy the education that is given to you.

    1. donkey hote says:

      @donkey hote “you wanna read a book by a WOMAN?”

    2. seriously? says:

      @seriously? Have you never heard of, like, Sappho?

    3. BC 2016--survivor says:

      @BC 2016--survivor 1. Hundreds of slave narratives, thousands of poems, and several novels, dating as early as the sixteenth and seventeenth century, all by African American authors. In America, those were more popular and widely read at the time than Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain, who are more frequently taught than contemporary black writers writing about the same topics, even though Mark Twain totally co-opted lesser known authors’s stories.
      2. Sappho
      3. Eliza Haywood
      4. Let’s not forget that there is an ancient literary tradition in the Middle East, South Asia, and Eastern Asia. I’m not even going to try to name those because I know very little about them, but I’m sure someone who knows more than me will be able to comment on this.
      5. Simone de Beauvoir
      6. Mary Shelley

      These are just the ones that I thought of off the top of my head.

      1. honestly says:

        @honestly don’t know who any of these people are — probably cause they weren’t too good, which proves the main commenter’s point. I mean if you actually wanted to sound intelligent you could have said Harper Lee.

        1. HAHAHA says:

          @HAHAHA Are you trying to make yourself sound stupid and ignorant?

          Legit question though: have you ever considered that maybe instead your viewpoint is flawed?

        2. So says:

          @So You don’t think Harper Lee’s good?
          Lol sounds like you’re in the minority bud. They must not have good literature on the planet Zorg or wherever you’re from.

        3. BC 2016--survivor says:

          @BC 2016--survivor I really don’t know what to tell you if you don’t know who Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Simone de Beauvoir (modernist philosopher), Sappho (well…), and at least a few of the early African American authors (Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Jacobs) all are. These are all great authors who are pretty widely talked about in English/history classes, so that’s on you if you don’t know who they are, not their “greatness” or lack thereof.

          1. Um says:

            @Um Yes I agree with your list of great authors outside the “white male” paradigm, but what point are you trying to make? Many of the people you listed (Simone de Beauvoir and Frederick Douglass, for example) are included in the Core Curriculum. As for Eastern and Arab texts, they have not had significant impact on Western civilization (besides, maybe, the Qu’ran, which is also taught in CC), so it makes sense that they would not be prevalent in the Core, and any complaint that you’d have there should be directed to the oddity that is the Global Core, not Lit Hum or CC.

          2. are you dumb says:

            @are you dumb booker t. washington is not a good person. he told freed slaves to “put down their buckets” and keep working for their former slaveowners, telling them to “return to the plantation districts and show the people there how to put new energy and new ideas into farming as well as into the intellectual and moral and religious life of the people.”. He founded Tuskeegee as a vocational school (sponsored by white sharecroppers) to teach black men how to grow crops and cut hair and blacksmith. In the early days of Tuskeegee you could be expelled for carrying a book under your arm….

    4. play-doh says:

      @play-doh So basically, you’re saying: quit whining, you’re so lucky to have all these brilliant and generous white people to lift you out of your ignorance and savagery.

      Why does this argument sound so familiar?

    5. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I also don’t know that thi education is being “given.” in many cases, it’s being purchased, quite expensively, in either monetary terms or opportunity costs, or any number of other non-financial considerations. Not only that, I don’t think it’s an issue, whether an education is purchased or given, to critique what’s coming down from positions of power and privilege as “truth” or “masterpiece” or whatever, and really question what systems essentially canonized those values as the correct ones.

  • BC 2016--survivor says:

    @BC 2016--survivor I was in a Barnard First Year English class during my freshman year, where we are required to read Fantomina. The premise of Fantomina is that a girl dresses up as a prostitute in order to get the attention of a guy. This story has a scene that, as the professor described it “ambiguously sexual assault”, but which I read as definitely rape. The professor read this scene aloud to the class and asked students to respond to it. Many students said things along the lines of “she was asking for it”, “once you get a guy started, he won’t stop”, victim blaming, basically, and the professor said literally nothing to remedy or redirect this conversation. I left class extremely triggered and emailed the professor to meet about how she handled this conversation. The professor, at first, refused to meet regarding this topic until I sent her a more urgent email demanding that she meet with me about this. When I did meet with her, she gave me a spiel about how it’s not possible for a prostitute to be raped and that she wasn’t sure why I was so offended by this, since the students were not attacking me personally. When I told her that I felt they were attacking my personal experiences, she told me that I could choose to arrive to class fifteen minutes late the next day as she wrapped up the conversation about this text, but that she would not change the way she discussed this book.

    If LitHum discussions re: rape in classics are handled even half as badly as this discussion was handled, then, yeah, there’s a problem.

    1. CC '17 - survivor says:

      @CC '17 - survivor Thank you

      1. BEYONCE says:


        1. BC 2016--survivor says:

          @BC 2016--survivor That wasn’t very Beyonce of you, to make light of sexual violence by derailing a conversation about it with a legitimate point.

          1. lol says:

            @lol hey BC, did you enjoy Lit Hum too?

          2. She says:

            @She doesn’t even go here!! boooooo

          3. lol says:

            @lol Stayed tuned for the hottest reality tv-show of the summer

            NBC’s Survivor, COLUMBIA EDITION

          4. o but says:

            @o but “eat the cake, anna mae”

            though i’m with you on everything else

          5. @lol says:

            @@lol A PSA to everyone in CC: People who take the Core are not the only people in the world who have read these works. High schoolers read these texts. Students at state schools, community colleges read these texts. They do not and have never belonged in the exclusive domain of Columbians. Half of y’all just Sparknote that shit anyway, so get off your high horses.

          6. but says:


        2. District 12 says:

          @District 12 Hunger Games, BRING IT BACK

    2. also a BC '16 survivor says:

      @also a BC '16 survivor thank you for writing this comment. very upset that there are people out there who down voted it.

    3. Cory Fitz says:

      @Cory Fitz That’s pretty messed up, but no, all of the discussions about rape in my Lit Hum class were handled 100% better than that.

      1. BC 2016--survivor says:

        @BC 2016--survivor That’s not the point. While many people did have good experiences with their lithum/FYE professors, there are still several that do lead conversations like I have described–I know of several people who have had similar experiences with different professors in lithum/FYE. Yes, some lithum/FYE professors are good people on their own with understanding of complicated social issues and with awareness of sensitive topics, but why do other professors lead conversations about these topics in such an insensitive way? Because either CU/BC doesn’t train these professors to handle these topics or because BC/CU’s selection process for choosing profs to teach doesn’t weed out professors who will be insensitive to students. Which is an institutional problem that should be addressed.

    4. bc 14 says:

      @bc 14 “When I did meet with her, she gave me a spiel about how it’s not possible for a prostitute to be raped”


      That is…fucked up. You should talk to the department head about this–maybe even consult the Title IX coordinator. Academic freedom is one thing; disseminating completely incorrect information that has the ability to physically harm others is another. (And before any of you argue that this has no real-life repercussions–remember, some of your peers do engage in sex work and/or solicit the services of sex workers.)

  • Denaeris Targaryon says:

    @Denaeris Targaryon ‘Literary past’ IS a funny term. WHOSE literary past are we talking about exactly? When you say “the point of these books is that they make up the foundation for most of literature’, what do you mean by ‘most of literature’? I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you mean white male Western literature. That ‘inheritance’ is exactly what the author is trying to question/put into perspective.

    The author is reacting to what’s being presented to them out of necessity. How much worse would it be if these texts were unquestioned? People like you would go on acting as if these TWO DOZEN BOOKS (do you have any idea how ridiculous it is to claim that ALL meaningful literature came from a handful of books?) were so many bibles. You’d keep on internalizing the super violent messages in these books as great things that you should do/think to be an educated human being. That’s super fucked up.

    1. The real Danaerys Targaryen would say says:

      @The real Danaerys Targaryen would say WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!

    2. real talk says:

      @real talk Haven;t seen you naked all season. What gives?

  • Blunts in Butler says:

    @Blunts in Butler The Iliad made surprisingly good rolling papers.

    1. Butts in Butler says:

      @Butts in Butler Really? I thought it made much better toilet paper.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous It’s not about personal “interest.” It’s about which voices are established and enforced as universal. Why should these voices be accepted as the universal default for being “cultured” or “educated” while others are regulated to “special interest” classes?

    The fact is that right now, Columbia, a respected and influential university, is enshrining these violent and problematic works as “masterpieces.” And whether it is intended or not, that gives the ideas in them a sense of inherent acceptability. Someone going to Brown won’t change that.

    Really, I don’t have a problem with learning about any of these books, but can we drop the “masterpieces” label and just admit that we are talking about a constructed Western Canon which (like most things) has a whole lot of problematic shit in it? And do we have to learn about *only* these books?

  • Ok, guys/gals/humans says:

    @Ok, guys/gals/humans Most people aren’t Greeks fighting in a war for the prospects of glory or honor. Most people aren’t poets traversing the depths of Hell. Most people aren’t young women growing up in a household in the 1800s obsessing over who they’re going to marry. The point of the Lit Hum works isn’t the characters, the settings, or the plots. The point is that the challenges, observations, and human tendencies present can be related to most, if not all, people. Lit hum books are chosen because they’re thought to be universal. Yes, their subject matter and authors are definitely not universal (as already stated, they mostly represent the experiences of white wealthy European males), but the works are open to so much interpretation and analysis that you can apply them to so many different people, cultures, situations, time periods, etc. You can connect them to so many things, and that’s why Columbia students even today, who are more diverse than ever, continue to relate to Lit Hum books.

    1. cc14 says:

      @cc14 Thank you for this. We could be reading Twilight and still have discussions about the human experiences. Focusing on the race of the authors completely misses the point of lit hum and CC.

      1. Anon says:

        @Anon you’re def one of those “i’m not racist, i’m colorblind” racists

  • sigh says:

    @sigh a lot of the “PC POLICE!!!!!” comments are from people who clearly didn’t read (or at least didn’t understand) the article.

    miles, lara, & anonymous – this is great, and an example of the kind of critical engagement with the core that every class *should* ostensibly have. i hope y’all had the chance to talk like this in your classes, and that your professors/classmates were open to talking about these issues. you raise a lot of concerns shared by upperclassmen and you raise them in an intelligent and thoughtful way.

    everyone else – y’all recognize that knee-jerking to “UGH PC POLICE/THAT’S JUST HOW LITERATURE AND HISTORY WORK/GET OVER IT” are kind of proving their point that the core unexamined leads to homogenization and brushing these issues under the rug, right? because that’s exactly what those kinds of comments are: products of a long tradition of western hegemony that refuses to acknowledge its own problems without defaulting to defensiveness.

  • tbh says:

    @tbh all the commenters talkin abt how lithum is the pinnacle of all literature are fake af, i bet all of yall were the ones whining abt how much reading yall had and sparknoting everything anyway lol

    1. lol says:

      @lol Your writing is impeccable.

  • darraghmartinworshipper says:

    @darraghmartinworshipper Yes, the Core syllabus is flawed; yes, what is discussed and what isn’t must be called into question.

    And it’s when I see this frustration and anger from other students that i thank my lucky stars that I ended up with a LitHum instrucgtor who’s theme for the whole year was “marginalized voices,” kept the discussion of marginalized voices ongoing about both the authors and the characters, and added works such as Sappho’s fragments, Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies, and Tony Kushner’s Angels of America. We even had a class where we read shorter works solely from writers who presented an “alternative narrative”. Our adapted LitHum class was the result of a professor who was passionate about representing those who deserve to be, and students who weren’t afraid to ask for a change in the syllabus.

    Although the LitHum syllabus is going through a review this coming year, change will be slow and not even definite. The best fix, in the short run, is to ask our professors to adapt the syllabus to fit the needs of the class. Even in a class that seems very rigid in its syllabus like LitHum, it’s possible; even though it’s on a small scale, it’s one step forward to change the discussion in even one class.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous DARRAGH IS MY BOY

    2. UGH says:

      @UGH i WISH i’d had darragh :( i heard nothing but good things from people in his class, and my lit hum experience was so ridiculously boring…

  • hi says:

    @hi Please read the op-ed fully before jumping to conclusions and commenting ty

  • wow says:

    @wow at least one person literally read all the Lithum books cover to cover!

  • alum says:

    @alum the point of reading the books is to get smarter and develop a logical way of thinking. I don’t remember a single fact from most of the math classes I took at Columbia but I like to think they still served a purpose. This analysis misses the point of the Core. The content is really secondary.

    1. @dicky brewster “the point of reading the books is to get smarter…”


  • to defend the core says:

    @to defend the core my lit hum class spent ages discussing how problematic the misogyny and rampant rape culture are in the books we read
    just because your prof didn’t do it doesn’t mean everyone’s prof didn’t
    i wholeheartedly agree that this is a question worth discussing but I would not be so quick to accuse columbia of something that it is already trying to remedy

  • cc 17 says:

    @cc 17 something can be a “masterpiece” and still have problematic shit in it fyi

    1. anon says:

      @anon You think people who’ve studied the philosophical masterpieces of the Western canon would be able to grasp this simple concept

  • sepoylover says:

    @sepoylover MANANNNNN!!!!!!!!! I love you. Marry me, sepoy.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I agree. I think that the argument for the diversification of the Core often presumes that the identity of the authors has an impact on the books’ reception, which I think is quite flawed.
    I also think actual focusing on the actual content of the text tends to be the best way to go, since trying to tackle the issues raised by the article results in
    a. Sterile discussion where no one really debates anything (who’s going to condone rape or a negative portrayal of women?)
    b. Even worse, the kind of hurtful discussion that has been mentioned elsewhere in the comments.
    I think the space for the kind of discussion about rape/identity on Columbia’s campus that the article seems to want should be present, but not in a LitHum class.

    1. actually... says:

      @actually... The author’s whole point was that we need to discuss this in LitHum if we want any chance of getting it fixed on campus.

  • Ayesha Agarwal says:

    @Ayesha Agarwal The above comment about censorship is a good one. In order to not repeat the past we must first understand it; understanding the inherent misogyny engrained into our “literary past”, understanding the mindsets and social norms that thematically shaped major historical texts, affect the way we read contemporary works. Replacing these works with ones where everybody is equally represented and nobody is marginalized is like glazing over slavery in American textbooks. It doesn’t change what happened, but instead creates ignorance. Literature is such a critical part of culture, and fostering such ignorance would undermine the purpose that lies at the very heart of the Core.

    The authors, however, do not argue for censorship. Instead, they encourage professors to have discussions on the rape, misogyny and marginalization of the works, and consider how that discrimination manifests in our own community. Though my professor did prompt questions about the woman’s place in each text, many professors uphold the Core’s WASPy reputation, glossing over the brutal rape scenes in Ovid and the commodification of characters like Io in Herodotus’ The Histories.

    That being said, I think, as a whole, the cannon of texts presented in the Lit Hum curriculum do address several aspects of the woman’s existence in Western civilization. Pride and Prejudice and To The Lighthouse are almost entirely concerned with the forced domestication of woman, Elizabeth and Lily Briscoe symbols of independence that challenge conventional gender roles. In Don Quixote, Marcela rejects blame for suitors who pine after her, and even in Ovid, Neptune’s blind rape goes unrewarded when his victim, so desperate to remain a virgin, is turned into a tree. Though some of these instances are subtle, the curriculum as a whole paints the plight of the woman in a dynamic portrait, presenting brutal episodes among more inspiring ones. In my opinion, they not only dare students to think, but also challenge the conventional submissive identity of the woman, encouraging students to accept the misogyny of the past and ensure we continue to move away from it.

  • Actually says:

    @Actually Definitely happy to have a civil discourse (and on the off chance you’d be cool putting your contact info down, I’d also be happy to have it in person post-finals — I usually find that to be a lot more productive).

    I do think a lot of the books present sexual violence as something that’s accepted/normalized. Think about Briseis in the Iliad — there’s a lot of conflict over Agamemnon raping her, but it’s not about the violation of her person, it’s about how Agamemnon wronged *Achilles*. Because in that value system, Briseis’ consent isn’t important; she’s just a good to be traded. The question the Iliad is posing is whether or not Agamemnon was wrong to “take” her from Achilles, not about the fact that she’s enslaved.

    Of course, we can read that and problematize that. And I think we should read the Iliad — it is a foundational text in the Western Canon, and I think we need to think (precisely as the authors are doing)about how the “Western Tradition” and the narratives that make it up involve a lot of violence, misogyny, etc. That’s part of our culture, it’s embedded as deeply as the Iliad, and we should be engaging with that.

    You’re right about how problemitizing that has to come from our Professors and other students. But in a lot of my Core classes, anyone who tried to talk about why those texts were problematic were shut down…. by the Professor. In other classes, we were allowed to bring it up, but the Professor never brought it up independently. If we’re going to talk about problematic texts, we have to talk about *why* they’re problematic, not just let everything disturbing about them slide.

    1. Actually says:

      @Actually This was supposed to be a reply to the first thread wayyyyyyy up at the top.

  • literary merit says:

    @literary merit I’m all for questioning the content of the syllabus and examining whether or not different texts from different people should be included.

    but please can we stop acting like the books that are there aren’t fucking amazing?

    sure, their quality is not ‘unquestionable,’ you have proved that by questioning it. but the answer to the question is always going to be that they are timeless works of literature.

    question the syllabus, not the content of the individual books.
    (btw this comment is directed more towards some of the discussion i’ve seen in the comments, not as much in the article)

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous THIS. A thousand times this.

    2. anon says:

      @anon “question the syllabus, not the content of the individual books.”

      What? Why can’t we do both? Isn’t it a little oxymoronic to glean lessons of the importance of critical thinking from your Core classes and decide that some texts should be exempt from critique?

  • Censor it says:

    @Censor it Censor Everything! New rule: If a the r- word is mentioned ever, he who mentions it shall be put to death.

    – Harry Feminist

  • PC police says:

    @PC police Bwog, I am ashamed of you. where is the trigger warning!!! I’ve had to go through hours of counseling to be able to come to terms with my time in Lit Hum.

  • Greaaaaaat says:

    @Greaaaaaat y’all better check that

  • Sheri J. Wolf says:

    @Sheri J. Wolf Sup ya’ll. Lemme just say that all 5 of my Facebook “followers” have been receiving constant updates about this article. We are planning on staging a protest in front of Low Library. I’m expecting about 50% turnout, so stay tuned and remember to CHECK YO PRIVILEGE OR I’LL CHECK IT FOR. BOOTS TO ASSES.

  • 20% is NOT a conservative campus rape rate estimator says:

    @20% is NOT a conservative campus rape rate estimator That these kind of figures keep getting blurted out uncritically is incredible. Everyone who believes “1-in-4” is close to the truth should 1) read the following. 2) Think about the damage that this erroneous belief can cause.

    After debunking the numbers, Summers writes:

    “[…]women on campus do not face anywhere near the same risk of rape as women elsewhere. The fact that college women continue to get a disproportionate and ever growing share of the very scarce public resources allocated for rape prevention and for aid to rape victims underscores how disproportionately powerful and self-preoccupied the campus feminists are despite all their vaunted concern for “women” writ large.

    Once again we see what a long way the New Feminism has come from Seneca Falls. The privileged and protected women who launched the women’s movement […] did not regard themselves as the primary victims of gender inequity: “They had souls large enough to feel the wrongs of others without being scarified in their own flesh.” They did not act as if they had “in their own experience endured the coarser forms of tyranny resulting from unjust laws, or association with immoral and unscrupulous men.””

    1. wut says:

      @wut what exactly is your problem with college students defending themselves?

  • Bulldozer of Truth says:

    @Bulldozer of Truth This piece is incredibly condescending. You seem to think that you are the only smart person at Columbia and that everyone else is a blind sheep who supports everything that we read in class/supports anything that the textbook author says and anything uttered from the teacher’s mouth. I read about Odysseus, Ovid, and Achilles. I didn’t start thinking “oh, rape is good” and become a rapist. The teachers didn’t support rape in any way.

    Some of us aren’t sheep who listen to propaganda masquerading as critical thinking and academic work. You seem to have absorbed some idiot’s claim that the mere presence of something in a work makes it promote that. I bet you hate Game of Thrones too even though it’s very clearly about struggling against and overcoming that sort of violence just because that violence is present.

    Women aren’t frail creatures who faint at the mere mention of the word “rape”. Men aren’t rabid animals who go around raping just because they hear the word “rape”. Stop having such a low opinion of your fellow humans.

    Also, thanks for ignoring that sometimes men are raped in those books too. I suppose you didn’t care that Odysseus was raped by Calypso (Homer even straight up says that Odysseus was unwilling to sleep with her but that she was too willing and made him). Since Odysseus is a man, his rape doesn’t matter, right?

    The whole point of that class is to examine how dominant Western thought evolved throughout the course of history and how that was recorded in the literature of the time. You argue that men had the dominant voices in those time. That’s why we read the books written by men. You claim that their philosophy was the dominant one, so obviously a class about the dominant philosophy of Western society will read those books.

    Also, please stop blending the minority struggle with your own struggle. As a minority who has been discriminated against many times in my life and bullied and harassed many times in my life for being a minority, I find it incredibly offensive that a white woman thinks that she can appropriate my struggles as her own, especially since a lot of the times the people who were bullying me were white women! I’m not your toady pawn or servant!

    1. Yes says:

      @Yes Thank you! This exactly.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The exact point of the core is to start a discussion of how these topics relate to us today.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The exact point of the core is to start a discussion of how the issues relate to us today.

  • Canonball says:

    @Canonball These kinds of articles tend to suggest that we create “canons” out of thin air, just picking the whitest and most masculine books we can find and telling freshmen that these are the only books worth reading. The point of Lit Hum is to attempt (and, of course, since there is only so much time in a semester, it’s always a failure in certain respects) to expose students to some of the books within a certain cultural context — i.e., “the West” — that best inform what it means to be human. “Being human” can mean either what is common to all of us as such, but also what has historically characterized human civilizations, and so even if you think that certain nasty things like rape and warfare are aberrations in human experience, there is still a place for them in the subject of these books.

    Most importantly, though, both creating the syllabi for courses like this and taking part in them involves a debate about what books really do capture something about human life, and how well these books that are some of the most popular candidates hold up to scrutiny. Any sensible discussion of the Lit Hum books should acknowledge, for example, that women have historically been prevented from contributing to this literary discussion of human nature, but at the same time be able to treat the Iliad or Don Quixote in their own terms.

    I worry that too many so-called “critical challenges” to Lit Hum aren’t really interested in redefining or broadening the scope of what makes us human, in adding the voices of those who have been excluded to “the Western canon,” but merely in denouncing everything written by white aristocratic men as sexist, racist, etc. It’s easy to find sexual violence, class oppression, or whatever offends our sensibility as somewhere-left-of-center undergraduates. Let’s all try, as one of my professors put it, to “be less offended” and find something actually interesting to say about these texts that we’re ostensibly criticizing.

    1. Yes. says:

      @Yes. I’m so sick of (well meaning?) underclass(wo)men touting WGS 101 arguments without (1) going beyond what their prof/ Judith Butler says and (2) denouncing everything that doesn’t conform. Please people, utilize some critical thought! It’s easy and cowardly to say that these texts are racist, sexist, and thus not worth engaging with on a level beyond that.

  • James Potter says:

    @James Potter Make the world in my image! Silence all dissenters! Remove all fear! Whitewash the walls of this prison! Blindfold the prisoners!
    We are happy now, we are not afraid.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous ITT people looking for something to be offended by

    rape and violence are perennial facts of human existence. they are terrible and not good to think about. if you can’t handle their being mentioned, you need intense counseling and probably shouldn’t be in college/taking medication (in the same way that veterans with PTSD do, so they can be productive and participatory in reality).

    anyway, move on plz…

  • actually... says:

    @actually... I think the point that the author is trying to make is that no amount of external discussion will be sufficient if we don’t stop teaching first-years the values in LitHum. The whole point is that LitHum teaches some really misogynistic shit and is STILL presented as a beautiful gift we should all be so grateful to absorb.

  • BC 2015 says:

    @BC 2015 I just want to say that in my FYE (Legacy of the Mediterranean) the first thing we read was “Leda and the Swan” by Yeats and talked about rape and rape culture. All hail Margaret Vandenburg.

  • mary margarine says:

    @mary margarine What do we mean when we group all these authors under the category of “white males”? Augustine, for instance, is from North Africa. Is he “white”? Are the authors of Genesis and John “white”?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous There is no book more violent, has more murders and rapes than the Old Testament.

  • J.S says:

    @J.S Wow. You had nothing better to say so you had to go and attack the author personally rather than attacking their views/article. Very mature of you. And certainly makes everything and anything you say very valid.

    You can’t even counter their argument. How could you possibly speak for who they are and their personality?

    1. Well says:

      @Well Well, perhaps it’s because I know them outside of this article. I wouldn’t be saying such a thing if I didn’t. And I have argued against parts of what the author is saying in other posts. Anyway, you have every right to be offended at me, but it doesn’t stop me from heartily believing in what I posted.

  • PC UGH says:

    @PC UGH I hate these PC ppl caring about rape ughh… So intellectually lazy ughhh PC PC

  • SHUT UP says:

    @SHUT UP Is it really out of the realm of possibility, considering the way that the administration handles sexual assault cases on this campus, that rape culture is prevalent in our classrooms as well?

    To all the people who claim that Columbia is too “PC.” All of you who hate the fact that people constantly bring up oppression, sexual assault, and racism sure do a lot of your own censoring of these opinions in most situations on this campus. Whenever someone voices an opinion about oppression, several of you immediately down vote and attack them. In social situations, I have been disgusted by some of my peers who worry about the “reputation” of a predator rather than the safety of all people on this campus. For everyone to be so gung ho about eradicating the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases, you all sure have a problem with examining the way that we ALL are implicit in rape culture on this campus. I try not to get too worked up about it, but you all can eat rocks and expire.

    1. I think you mean says:

      @I think you mean Complicit, not implicit

    2. ALL CAPS IS COOL says:

      @ALL CAPS IS COOL “try not to get too worked up”

      try harder sista

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I’m surprised nobody has pointed out that many of our most revered women writers stood apart, personally and artistically, from the sexual world. Think of Jane Austen, or Emily Dickinson, or Marianne Moore. Many others were lesbians: think of Sappho, or Gertrude Stein, or Elizabeth Bishop. Sexual violence was not a primary concern of these writers. If an alternative Core were constructed around them, what vision of relations between the sexes would it offer to counter, say, the brutality of the Homeric epics?

  • VIRGIN-IA "WTF" WOLF says:


    What more fitting than to destroy an old word, a vicious and corrupt word that has done much harm in its day and is now obsolete? The word ‘FUCK’ is the word indicated. Let us celebrate this occasion by cremating the corpse. Let us write that word in large black letters on a sheet of foolscap; then solemnly apply a match to the paper. Look, how it burns! What a light dances over the world! Now let us bray the ashes in a mortar with a goose-feather pen, and declare in unison singing together that anyone who uses that word in future is a ring-the-bell-and-run-away-man, a mischief maker, a groper among old bones, the proof of whose defilement is written in a smudge of dirty water upon his face. The smoke has died down; the word is destroyed. Observe, Sir, what has happened as the result of our celebration. The word ‘FUCK’ is destroyed; the air is cleared; and in that clearer air what do we see? Men and women working together for the same cause.

  • Alum says:


    I couldn’t have said it better. We’re so focused on criticizing everything that we miss the opportunity to learn, which is a real shame.

  • cc '15 says:

    @cc '15 Very puzzled by this piece from the get go. I find it a strange suggestion that to portray rape or violence in a book is to endorse rape or violence, and find it an even stranger suggestion that an inclusion of a book in a syllabus is necessarily an endorsement of its values. Some of the best learning experiences I have had in college have been reading books written by people I find to be abhorrent about things that I find reprehensible (for example, slaveowners’ journals in a Southern history class). To put something on a syllabus is a statement of “this book is good and you should agree with it,” but rather a statement of “this book is important for certain reasons and we need to look at it and investigate it.”

    You have to understand ugliness before you can create change for the better. Rape has happened a lot across human history, and while the safety of survivor’s needs to be considered in a classroom setting, the purge of literature depicting sexual assault is not the answer. The whole point of a Western literature class is to look at the past and see how we are different, how are the same, how we were changed, and what we’d like to change moving forward. If we find rape culture reprehensible and would like to change it, looking at the treatment of rape across history is probably a productive thing to do. There’s a really strange, almost Maoist culture of historical revisionism on this campus which seems to have more to do with obliterating and ignoring the old than including the new. Obviously it is a good thing to study and learn from cultures and experiences which were once (and still are) marginalized and oppressed. However, this practice is not mutually exclusive from reading the Western canon so long as we take it for what it is: a collection of texts which were once considered to be very important, and are still important in some ways and not so much in others.

    The Core curriculum is centered around Western history and culture, we all knew that when we agreed to go here. The Western canon has value, even if that value is not all-encompassing (I don’t think we’d want it to be.)To some people, the canon seems very important, to others, not so much. Instead of discussing whether the core should exist, we should probably consider whether the Core is right for us in terms of what we want to pursue academically, and make our decision to stay at Columbia and participate in the experience of the Core based on that.

    1. cc '15 correction says:

      @cc '15 correction To put something on a syllabus is NOT a statement of “this book is good and you should agree with it”

  • kill your idols says:

    @kill your idols Simone de Beauvoir passed her female students on to her rapist husband and was complicit in his predatory behavior towards her students….

    “Sartre preyed ruthlessly on confused young women, with Beauvoir as his all-forgiving enabler. On several occasions, Beauvoir would pursue an affair with one of her infatuated female students (while denying, throughout her life, that she had ever had sex with women) and then pass her lover along to Sartre. Together the two would excitedly dissect these affairs.”

    “Sartre, a pampered only child and an extreme narcissist, needed women, although not primarily for sex. Homely and acutely self-conscious, he laid siege to them, overcoming resistance with a tidal wave of words, his instrument of power.”

    “Two of Sartre’s waifs came to grief. Bianca Bienenfeld, one of Beauvoir’s infatuated students, suffered a nervous breakdown. Her psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, accused Sartre and Beauvoir of establishing a quasi-parental relationship and then, so to speak, breaking the incest taboo by sleeping with her. Evelyne Lanzmann, the sister of the editor and documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, committed suicide at age 36.”

  • better than homer? says:


    “Beauvoir was known to have a number of female lovers. The nature of some of these relationships, some of which she began while working as a professor, later led to a biographical controversy.[13][14][15][16] A former student, Bianca Lamblin (originally Bianca Bienenfeld), in her book, Mémoires d’une jeune fille dérangée, wrote that, while she was a student, she had been exploited by her teacher Beauvoir, who was in her thirties at the time.[17] In 1943, Beauvoir was suspended from her teaching job, due to an accusation that she had, in 1939, seduced her 17-year-old lycee pupil Nathalie Sorokine.[18] Sorokine’s parents laid formal charges against Beauvoir for abducting a minor and as a result she had her licence to teach in France permanently revoked.[19] She and Jean-Paul Sartre developed a pattern, which they called the “trio,” in which Beauvoir would seduce her students and then pass them on to Sartre. Both he and she later regretted what they viewed as their responsibility for psychological damage to at least one of these girls.[20]”

  • Arsene Wenger /1_nil_to_Hull_in_the_90th/ edition says:

    @Arsene Wenger /1_nil_to_Hull_in_the_90th/ edition I too can ignore finals

  • wait says:

    @wait so it’s okay to exclude historically important women and POC from the “important” standard because they were fucked up people, but not white guys? smh.

    yeah, Booker T Washington and Simone de Beauvoir might have been fucked up, like MANY of the male authors were, but they’re still historically significant.

  • Global core says:

    @Global core is just an afterthought. It’s like saying “hey, your not good enough to be included in Columbia’s CORE curriculum so we’ll just let students learn about you on the side…”

    POC have made a lot of contributions to western literature/philosophy, especially when we get further in the Lit Hum/CC syllabus during the second semester. I can think of TONS of POC authors, male AND female, who’ve written books that have a huge impact on the world of literature. And if you can’t, you obviously need to branch out a bit with your reading.

    So to the people who think that Western only means white, IT DOESN’T.

  • Renal Corpuscle says:

    @Renal Corpuscle Apparently men are too stupid to not become rapists if they read about a rape (the misandrist author ignores rape of men in the Odyssey because ‘men can’t be raped’). So I propose that the following violence-free, sanitized stories be used in Lit Hum so that men (those violent subhuman dogs) don’t become evil:

    1. The Cat in the Hat by Theodore Seuss Gisele

    2. The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain (although we’ll have to be careful because there are stories about bullying in there and we don’t want those dogs to become bullies!)

    3. Potty Time With Elmo (since men are disgusting pigs who can’t clean up after themselves)

    4. Barney: Sharing is Caring by Mark S. Bernthal and June Valentine (men aren’t sharing their wonderful privileges of being drafted, having no compensation for paternity fraud, being arrested even when their spouse is the perpetrator of domestic violence, not being covered at all by FBI rape laws, getting longer jail sentence for the same crime, becoming homeless because of ludicrous alimony laws, etc. They need to share their male privilege with everyone!)

  • b says:

    @b I see this as part of a much larger trend of resistance to critical thought as well as a lack of empathy.

    I absolutely have sympathy for survivors of sexual assault. I am a feminist. I have experienced what some may call sexual assault. Yet I don’t see what personal unfortunate, even traumatic experience has to do with education. It’s one thing to oppose certain books because you think they’re bad–poorly written, lacking feeling and insight, etc– and opposing books because they are offensive or “problematic.” If you can’t get through a Columbia core class b/c you take offense, how are you going to go through the rest of your life? There are terrible, shitty things in life. Spending all your energy pointing out these shitty things won’t make you a happier person.

    This does not mean you should accept violence/oppression/prejudice into your life– quite the opposite. You should resist this. But let’s talk REAL issues, not petty fluff like this .Let’s resist censorship on the internet. Let’s resist lack of action on climate change. Let’s resist police brutality employed when people protest against our increasingly fucked class system. Sexual assault is a huge concern on this campus, and that’s real. There is no easy answer for how we can get past this. But i certainly don’t think the solution is writing the alleged rapists’ names on a bathroom wall or trying to omit everything from the Core that may speak of rape. Hate is hate. Empathy is a powerful tool.

    We read amazing books at this school, books which have survived because in at least some small way they reflect something true about the human condition–as cliche as that sounds– even at its ugliest. That’s invaluable. Some of these books talk about rape. Some are written by men who probably didn’t like women very much. Rape and misogyny have been with us forever. Doesn’t mean rape and misogyny are okay– but it’s part of the truth regardless. Denying the truth only distorts real life more.

    How can we move forward as a species if we only condemn and deconstruct? isn’t there something valuable to learn even from texts we may personally find abhorrent? if we’re always victims and survivors don’t the oppressors win? How can we help and love each other?


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