Studying humanities in a STEM world

Elizabeth Bonin, A&E Editor

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I hate telling people I’m an English major. The reactions I get are usually questions as to what on earth I’m going to do with that, scoffing remarks because my major is apparently useless or just a controlled nod of the head as if they don’t want to say anything to offend me. Feeling as if I have to justify what I’m studying for my future career is probably one of the worst feelings in the world. The ones who always ask what exactly I’m going to do with an English major usually assume I’m studying to either be a teacher or a writer—both of which are wrong. This is usually followed by a comment on how poor I’m going to be.

I encourage those who are not English majors to open your minds as to what we English majors can do in the world. Aside from teaching or writing we can go into journalism, editing, publishing, law, marketing and sales, to name a few. We have more options than one might think. If an English major does want to teach or write, there’s nothing wrong with that. Without English teachers, you wouldn’t have been able to construct a basic sentence, let alone write all those Paideia papers. Teachers provide us with opportunities for the future. We need them. We need writers as well. In the film “Dead Poet Society,” main character John Keating says “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. As a whole, society needs stories to learn, to open our minds and to connect with others. Writing is as noble a profession as any other.

Homework is harder than one might think too, and that goes for all majors in the humanities, not just English. Biology, chemistry and physics homework is of course incredibly difficult and I commend all who study those subjects. What drives me crazy is when I am told that my work is not as difficult because I’m not studying science or math. Maybe I only have to read for homework some nights, but reading and deciphering what Ralph Ellison defines as invisibility for blacks in the 20th century in his novel “Invisible Man” is not exactly leisure reading on the beach, let alone writing a paper on the topic. Art majors will tell you that they can’t exactly whip out a great piece in one night either. It takes years of practice for language majors to master fluency. Humanities majors are hard at work, it’s simply a different kind of hard work than the sciences.

I want to feel like I’m going to change world when I tell someone my major, not like I have to defend why it’s important. That’s not to say I feel that way all the time. There have been times when someone praises my major and I love that. A random guy I met in Maui was surprised when I told him I was an English major, and he went on and on about how hard that must be and how impressed he was. When I tell people I’m an English major, that’s how I want to feel, and that goes for all the humanities. Our studies are difficult. Our work is important. Our future careers will impact the world. 

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