As a high school student, I went to great lengths to make sure I went to an academically rigorous university. In doing so, I took courses based on how they would affect my GPA and CV, ignoring my passion for social studies and English lessons. However, as graduation approached, I felt compelled to specify both an academic background and a career. The pressure to assimilate into cultural beliefs about academic excellence despite one’s passions is fueled by humanities myths, as well as the desire to enter a socially acceptable academic field. However, the liberal arts and humanities should be considered socially acceptable for a number of reasons. The myth that students in these disciplines are unemployable has been proven wrong time and time again – students gain a wide variety of transferable skills in these programs and ultimately academic freedom and the exploration of one’s educational passions must be respected.
the social science and liberal arts provide general knowledge and intellectual skills such as reason and judgment – these typically include literature, philosophy, languages, history, politics and the arts. When I was asked in high school what direction I planned to go academically, I replied that I was interested in politics. The common answer was always to ask why would I follow such a terrible career path where I wouldn’t make any money. Despite my obvious passion for the social sciences and humanities, this common feeling among people has closed me off – it’s a familiar tendency among humanities students. Instead, I resorted to vague statements about not knowing what interested me – because even that was more acceptable than what I was actually passionate about.
After I arrived at university, I discovered that my interests were more in line with fields other than politics, but still in the humanities. I began to fully embrace my passions for reading, writing, and historical study as an English and History major. In doing so, I became increasingly happy in my classes and felt much more confident and comfortable in my academic environment. So, I’d like to take some time to advocate for humanities and liberal arts majors.
First, the idea of being unemployable as a liberal arts or humanities student is a myth. Students in the ‘English Language and Literature/Humanities’ field had an unemployment rate of 29% five years after graduation, while students in the ‘Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services’ field had a 31% unemployment rate – that’s not as different as they are supposed to be, and even with English majors ahead. Even still, there is a significant problem with these percentages – they only show the percentage of unemployed out of the number of graduates in the same field, instead of showing the percentage of the total number of unemployed. For example, in the business category mentioned above, 212,583 people were unemployed five years after obtaining their bachelor’s degree, while in the field “Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities”, there were only 18,824 people unemployed. The previous report gives no indication of the total number of unemployed graduates or even how those numbers compare to the total, but given the sheer size of the unemployed business population, it is clear that the myth unemployed in the humanities and liberal arts don’t quite stack up.
Also, people think that there are no transferable skills in the humanities and liberal arts. This is patently incorrect – although the humanities do not provide the same technical skills as the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, they do provide other incredibly important qualities. The humanities are shown to strengthen skills such as analysis, induction, contextualization and innovation. Humanities students also learn to read and write analytically and are proficient in ethical decision-making. These skills are just as necessary as any technical knowledge, and also address another area of expertise not often covered by STEM pathways.
Finally, there is the issue of academic freedom. It is privileged to be able to attend a higher education institution and also to be able to choose a field of study according to their interests. Even so, it is extremely important to respect students who follow their passions in an academic setting. When I say I’m a double major in English and History, I often get blank stares. However, academia feeds on the passion of students and is a fundamental aspect of higher education institutions, including university — my passion is the humanities. Different people have different interests and skills – each of them being equally important in society. The fact is that we need people in all fields. We need people who can approach problem solving from a technical point of view, but also from a creative point of view. Our world literally works on the basis of the diversity of perspectives and approaches of people with different skills.
I ask that we take a new approach to discussing the humanities – we respect those who have a passion for it and let them flourish within it. Instead of immediately wondering how someone will find a job, instead ask yourself what kind of valuable skills they will bring to the table when it comes to their future job. In reality, the myths we have been told about the liberal arts and humanities are false, and it is time to replace them with a culture of respect for academic diversity.
Hailey Robbins is opinion writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.