In Defense of the Humanities

When well-meaning relatives, the neighbors and the person who I literally just met five minutes ago find out that I’m applying for college this year, I receive this dreaded question: “Well, what do you want to major in?” (Side note: I have yet to find a high school senior mired in the application process who enjoys answering this question).

“I’m not too sure – after all, I am only 17 years old,” I reply. “But I was definitely thinking of majoring in something humanities-based.”

“Humanities? You must be joking,” they say. “Where’s the return on that? Can you even make money? What can you do with your future?”

The above conversation is part of an alarming and growing trend I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

It’s easy to discredit the humanities – after all, who actually needs a history major? I mean, is knowing the history of the United States going to be helpful when we’re trying to solve the problem of climate change?

But in reality, I say this: absolutely. Yes, an engineer can help you solve a problem in the most efficient way. But I would also argue that humanities majors can help you figure out why the problem existed in the first place, the history of the issue and the relationship between that and human impact (if applicable), all of which are just as important as the solution to the problem itself.

But wait! Women are abundant in the humanities, so one more woman doesn’t make a difference! Good luck making money in any humanities field ever!

Well, first of all: although they are rare, gender gaps do exist in humanities fields (namely, in economics and philosophy, where women earn less than 35 percent of the Ph.Ds in the fields, according to The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post), so to place a generalized statement about gender parity in the fields is misleading and unhelpful at best. And yes, many of us have been told that if we want to make money, we must go into STEM fields.

The money concept may be true, but when have we ever been taught to disregard all of our particular passions in the pursuit of money? We’ve heard it before – money doesn’t buy happiness – and if that happiness is pursuing something in the humanities, well, that axiom definitely doesn’t apply there.

And to another point: I totally get it. There’s a huge dearth of women in STEM fields, and academic institutions – Hockaday in particular – are taking much-needed strides to close the gender gap in those professions. But in light of turning to those fields, we tend to forget an equally as important educational division: the humanities.

I see the bright and spacious atmosphere of the science building and the skeleton of the soon-to-come fine arts building and wonder, “Where did the humanities go?” though I do recognize that ScienceTechnologyHistoryEngineeringArtsMath is a fairly clunky acronym. But seriously, you have school-sponsored summer research and funded lab grants and musical performances and outlets for fine arts creativity. And by no means do I think that the fine arts and STEM are less important than any other classes, and I will gladly support any Daisy in those fields.

But what about cultural anthropology lectures and explorations? Archival work? Where did our school opportunities go?

And lest we forget: civilization started on the shoulders of the humanities, under the writings of Homer and Herodotus and Virgil. To disregard the foundational structure of the world today would be a disservice to all here.

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Sunila Steephen

I enjoy romantic candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach at sunset, and the Fourcast.

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