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Being a Humanities Major in 2021

By: Paige Hodder //

When you get to college, no one tells you that your major will become a part of your identity. At the beginning of every semester in every new class, in every new club, and with every new person you meet, that piece of information is almost always a part of your introduction. I can literally hear myself: “Hi, my name is Paige, I’m majoring in English and History…” It is almost automatic at this point, a core part of my college student identity and something we all share with each other to get a feel for a new person.

And with each major, there are a certain set of stereotypes. We all know them: the business majors who wear a suit to class everyday, the CS major who acts like they are going to invent the next facebook, and the PoliSci major always looking for the next debate. I can picture each of these people in my head and I bet you can too. In this way our majors are not only a part of how we define ourselves but also how we define each other.

But with all the pride and happiness I take on with my majors, I also take on the more deprecating sides of that identity. If I’m not in an english or history class or not talking to someone who I know is also a humanities major, I feel compelled to say “I plan to go to law school,” after my majors. Like I have to qualify my major choices by promising that I will go on to get a “real job,” whatever that even is. And it’s worse because that's not even entirely true, I would love to be an author or journalist or editor, those careers are just seen as less achievable and less respectable in ways that make me feel vulnerable when I admit to those dreams. I think these feelings get at the heart of one of the biggest frustrations I have faced in college, which is that even though I love to read and write so deeply, even though I know my major choices are the right ones for me, I still feel insecure about these choices in the face of a STEM or business major.

In the past few decades I think we have experienced a shift in the perceived purpose of college. In a lot of ways, it’s no longer about gaining knowledge or perspective, or about challenging the ways you think and form arguments, but instead learning concrete skills that will allow you to be successful in a specific job. And that’s certainly a fine perspective about college, but it's not inherently better than the other and I think a lot of people forget that today. As a result, the more abstract skills, analysis, critical thinking, argument formation that I learn and practice everyday in my major just aren’t given the same weight as how to code an app or create a marketing presentation.

And so, I, and I think a lot of other humanities majors, face a certain superiority complex in many of our peers, even the really nice ones who don’t mean it or do anything about it on purpose. It has become something so internalized in their culture, discussion, and education that many don’t even realize it, let alone the harm it causes. And it sucks, because I am smart and I am learning good and useful skills. I am majoring in subjects I love to hopefully do something I love with the rest of my life, and I refuse to spend my tuition money on a degree in something I “should” want. I know my education is just as valuable as anyone else's as the University of Michigan, and it breaks my heart that I have to defend that belief so often, to others and to myself.

All of that is to say that humanities majors in this day in age face a struggle, a culturally ingrained self-consciousness, that I don’t think gets acknowledged enough. Acknowledging this problem will help reclaim some of the pure and simple beauty of an education, of gaining knowledge just for the sake of it. This is not to say that no one can love or feel passionate about a major outside of the humanities, because obviously that is not true. But someone who loves to code will never have to justify this passion and career path in the way someone majoring in German will have to. It's a small problem and not a very pressing one, but it's something important to consider as our generation moves forward and continues to leave our mark on the world. Because we have the power to change this, to reclaim the joy of education and prioritize it over any obligations.


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