Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Hello everyone!

Welcome to the English Department’s COVID-19 news page.

[Note: the information below applies to 2020-21]

This is a webpage created by the English Department to provide a convenient, centralized place for our students to come for English Department-specific news related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For College-wide updates, please visit the College’s coronavirus page. If you have any questions about the contents of this page or the English Department’s response to the pandemic, please do not hesitate to email me, Bernie Rhie (the Chair). Another wonderful resource for all things English Department-related is our amazing Academic Assistant, Pat Malanga. I encourage you to email Pat with any questions you might have about English Department courses and policies. For those of you who are English majors, I also encourage you to reach out to your major advisors with any questions or concerns you might have (click here for an up-to-date list of advisor/advisee pairings).

Below you will find relevant news and updates (even an FAQ section!), which will be updated over time. If you know of anyone who is wondering about how the English Department’s policies have been modified in response to the pandemic, please refer them to this page.

For updates and news about the English Department, please follow the Department’s Instagram Account.

Wishing you all health, safety, and peace,

Bernie Rhie

Update on 12/13/20: Invitation to the English Department Spring Pre-Registration Open House, Tuesday January 5, 5-6pm Eastern Time (on Zoom):

  • All students (majors and non-majors alike) are invited to an online open house (Jan. 5, 5-6pm ET), at which English Department faculty will be happy to discuss their Spring 2021 courses with interested students. Faculty will be spread out amongst a number of Zoom breakout rooms to make it possible to have smaller, meaningful discussions with interested students.
  • Visit the following URL to access the Zoom link for this open house:

Update on 12/13/20: Info about our 100-level offerings (and beyond) for first-year students and the faculty who are advising them:

  • We are offering an exciting selection of 100-level seminars this spring, and we would love to have many first-year students take them. However, we also want to encourage first-year students to look beyond our 100-level offerings (even those who may not have scored a 5 on the AP Lit exam or received a 6 or 7 on the IB exam, the traditional ways students bypass our 100-level requirement). As many of you know, the AP and IB exam systems were badly disrupted this year because of the pandemic (IB exams weren’t even administered), and so those scores are not nearly as meaningful this year as they have been in the past (and some of us in the department have our doubts about how meaningful they ever are). We don’t feel it’s right, this year in particular, to use them as a definitive measure of whether a first-year student is prepared for upper level course work in English. Also, for a variety of reasons (recent faculty retirements, sabbatical patterns, and smaller class sizes to make our online courses better experiences), we have fewer spots in our 100-levels courses than we ordinarily do. So there are some pragmatic reasons we would like students to expand their horizons beyond our 100-level courses. We don’t want students (especially first-years) who would like to take an English course to feel unduly limited in the number of choices they have. First-years: if an upper-level English course catches your eye, please reach out to the professor who is teaching that class. We would love to have you in our classes, and we intend to be welcoming and supportive to those who reach out.

Update on 7/24/20: For transfer students who are considering an English major:

  • First of all, welcome! As a former community college transfer student myself (Santa Rosa Junior College ➡️ U.C. Berkeley), I’m delighted to welcome you to Williams! Happy to talk with you about how many of the English courses you took at your previous institution can be transferred over. Please email me to set up a meeting. I look forward to connecting! — Bernie

Update on 7/22/20: Info for rising juniors and seniors about major advising and declaring as an English major:

  • Rising juniors: if you want to declare as an English Major (hooray!), you can do so beginning August 3. English Department faculty will be available to help rising juniors declare as English majors from August 3-13. Pre-registration itself won’t begin until August 10 (to see the full registration timeline, click here). Please use this online sign-up form to schedule an appointment with an English Department faculty member who will help you with course selection and the online paperwork required to declare a major (once you sign up for a slot on this sign-up sheet, don’t forget to email the professor!). To see the form(s) required to declare an English major, click here.
  • Senior majors: please reach out to your assigned major advisor by email to discuss course selection before pre-registration opens on August 10. You and your major advisor can talk by phone or on Zoom, or just correspond about course selection by email. It is important that rising seniors reach out to their major advisors to confer about course selection, to ensure that all major requirements are fulfilled by the time of graduation. You really don’t want to be surprised at the end of your senior year to discover that you haven’t taken enough (or the right) classes to earn your degree in English! Do yourself a favor and reach out to your major advisor. If you don’t remember or know who your major advisor is, see the list of advisor-student pairings here.

Modified Department Policies (just for 2020-2021):

  • Degree and major requirements: There is a nine course minimum to earn any degree in a major at Williams, including a major in English, and that number is fixed and firm, established by the College as a whole and beyond the control of the department. But the English Department is happy to be flexible when it comes to our internal major requirements. If you anticipate having any difficulty, because of disruptions created by the pandemic, fulfilling all of the major requirements, please contact Bernie to discuss your situation. We don’t want our students to feel blocked from earning their degrees in English because of circumstances beyond their control, especially during these unprecedented times. We are happy to be flexible and eager to work with you to help you successfully complete your studies in English at Williams.
  • Typically, courses taken pass/fail cannot be used towards a major, unless the P/F course was the first one taken towards the major (according to the Registrar’s website, here is the exact wording of the usual P/F policy: “No course counting toward a major, certificate, or concentration can be taken pass/fail unless this course is the first one taken toward that credential.”) However, in recognition of the challenges our students may be facing during this pandemic, the English Department is happy to make an exception for courses taken during the academic year 2020-2021 (and of course, there has already been an exception made for courses taken during the spring of 2020, which were all converted to pass/fail). Courses taken P/F during Spring 2020, Fall 2020, and Spring 2021, can now be used towards the English major. There is no need to make a request about this. This exception to the traditional P/F rule is automatically granted to all students enrolled at the College in 2020-21.
  • Enrollment caps for most of our courses have been lowered for the fall. There was a widely shared sense this past spring (among both faculty and students) that once we went remote, smaller classes worked better than bigger ones. So, courses that traditionally have 19 student caps (like 100-levels and Gateways) will now be capped at 14. And 300-level seminars that are usually capped at 25 will now be capped at 16. Traditional tutorials will stay capped at 10 and creative writing workshops at 12. These numbers aren’t binding on faculty, and some will choose to cap their courses slightly differently, but in general, you’ll find that our fall classes will be smaller than they have been in the past.


  • Q. I am a rising junior and plan to declare as an English major, but I’ve also decided to withdraw for a semester (or perhaps even two). When should I declare my major? A. In early August, when the official course catalog is published and pre-registration happens, that’s when students will be asked to declare their majors, and to fill out the major declaration forms. That is when students who are withdrawing for a semester or two should also declare their majors, even if they will be on leave in the fall. You will declare this summer, rather than waiting till you return. Sit tight for now, but plan to declare in August (watch your email inbox for more news about the registration/declaration process when it comes time).
  • Q. Why are so few courses being taught on campus (i.e. hybrid)? A. As the Chair, I don’t have a good answer to that, because I myself don’t know the reasons why each professor decided to teach remotely or hybrid. Happily, the College gave each professor the freedom to decide for themselves which mode of teaching was best for their circumstances, no questions asked. Some other colleges and universities are pressuring their faculty members to teach on campus, making professors who are worried about teaching in-person apply for special exemptions (often requiring medical documentation). In fact, I have friends who teach at some of these schools, and they are worried and anxious about having to teach in person against their will. (See this June 30 article in Inside Higher Ed for more on how this is playing out at other institutions; or this July 3 piece in the New York Times.) Imagine being taught in person by a professor who you worried might not actually feel safe being there? That would be awful, wouldn’t it? So, even though I don’t know why my colleagues who are choosing to teach remotely have decided to do so (I consider this their personal business, and not mine), I can say that I’m very glad to be teaching at an institution that has given my colleagues and me the freedom to decide for ourselves what is best for each of us, at this unprecedented moment in history.