Book selection by water feature at Arcadia University
My current selection of books, including POC writers from Boston Teen Author Book Festival.

What’s Our Dead White Dudes Ratio?

We can love a thing and still critique it. In fact, that’s the only way to really love a thing. Let’s be critical lovers and loving critics and open ourselves to the truth about where we are and where we’ve been. Instead of holding tight to the same old, failed patriarchies, let’s walk a new road, speak new languages. Today, let’s imagine a literature, a literary world, that carries this struggle for equity in its very essence, so that tomorrow it can cease to be necessary, and disappear.

Daniel José Older

I am critiquing the literature assigned by the English department at Arcadia, because I love the English department. I love all of the professors I’ve had and what they’ve taught me. So I wanted to investigate — how diverse is the literature assigned at Arcadia? In other words, what’s our DWD (dead white dudes) ratio?

I got my data from the bookstore’s website by painstakingly inputting every class in the English department for the fall semester. I used google forms to analyze the data, which included the author’s gender, status as living or dead, language, and sexuality, if known.

I analyzed the authors instead of the content of the books because it’s important for us to read stories by our own voices’ writers — people of color writing about people of color, LGBTQ+ people writing about LGBTQ+ characters. It’s not diversity if it’s a white person writing about the experiences of another race, because they will never be able to completely capture those experiences.

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I was expecting much more gender disparity, but I was pleasantly surprised. Male and female authors seemed relatively equally assigned. The dead still outnumbered the living, a worrying statistic, which indicates that not enough contemporary authors are being assigned. Although there is certainly something to be said about “classic”’ novels, we can’t ignore the great writing that is being produced today, especially as a response to current events.

Some of the most worrying differences are how many more white writers and texts in English are assigned. Even though I didn’t track it, I noticed that almost all of the writers assigned were American. America doesn’t even make up five percent of the world’s population — we cannot assume that the majority of great writing in the world is done by Americans. And the racial disparity doesn’t even reflect the diversity in America, let alone in the world.

What can we do as students to fill in the blanks in our education? Can we find books translated from other languages, written by people in other countries? Can we seek out modern voices that are commenting on the world that we know today?

Arcadia is committed to providing a global education, and I would hope that applies to our literature. Even though we have wonderful classes that focus on travel literature and LGBTQ+ writers, most of our English classes focus on the canon. So can we redefine the classics in order to fit our diverse world?

Photo by Lyanne Rodriguez