Conference answers ‘Why English?’

You’re studying English. “So what are you going to do with that? Become a teacher?" 

It’s the kind of query English majors often hear – and come to dread. For some reason, their inquisitors can never imagine any other career path for literature lovers, not the way they can for, say, accounting, computing or even geography students.  

Tired of mumbling something about liking reading and trying to change the subject, York English majors have decided to tackle this irksome question straight on. On Saturday, the English Undergraduate Student Association (EUSA) is holding a conference at York called “Why English?”

The question points to bigger issues of the purpose and value of a university education: Is it inherently valuable or is it merely a point of entry into the workforce? And is this either/or approach even useful?

“Why English?” will investigate what it means to pursue English as a discipline academically, personally and professionally. Panel discussions will explore other questions, such as: In a digital age, what is the residual value of the written word? How is the discipline of “English” changing and touching other disciplines?

This conference stems partly from the need to alleviate student anxiety caused by the inability to define not only the nature of an English degree but also its practicality outside academe. It is also an attempt to respond to the departmental initiative for reconstruction and renewal of the pedagogy, rhetoric and relevance of its discipline.

A keynote address about the History of English Departments by York English Prof. Kim Ian Michasiw (right) opens the conference on Saturday. It wil be followed by six 90-minute discussions on the following topics:

Panels will be moderated by English undergraduate and graduate students from York and American universities. To stimulate discussion, organizers are inviting participants to submit 500-750-word responses on the above topics to

A free opening reception will be held Friday at The Underground Restaurant, 6-10pm, featuring The Coyotes. RSVP for the conference reception Friday by e-mailing

Click here to see a video of the First Annual Writing Studies Symposium (and EUSA’s Sweet Nougat Zine Launch) held Oct. 30.