Sastoque: Stop invalidating humanities majors

Laurisa Sastoque, Columnist

Humanities majors often experience a phenomenon of expected multidimensionality. When a college student reveals that they are majoring in STEM, no further questions are asked. However, the disclosure of a humanities major is often followed by a prolonged silence that can only be broken by the introduction of the line: “oh, and economics” or “and (insert name of a conventionally employable field).”

This roots from the overarching assumption that humanities fields only exist as companionates. By this, I do not mean to demean the value of interdisciplinary efforts, but instead to emphasize the recurring idea that the choice to pursue a humanities major exists merely as a source for intellectual satisfaction and not as a life-orienting vocation.

Majors like history and philosophy are appreciated for their ability to instill critical thinking and a conceptual foundation for the practice of other fields, like politics, for example, but they are widely overlooked as standalone disciplines. Their applications are considered limited to the reproduction of their instruction in educational settings.

Highly passionate students feel the need to complete a second major in a conventional field because of the constantly reaffirmed narrow-minded scope of the labor market. Few will say that it is invalid to pursue your passion, but many will affirm that expecting to make a living out of it is.

I will not venture to state that the gap in starting salaries and employment availability between humanities and STEM majors is a myth, because that would be largely false. Instead, I argue that this phenomenon stems from a shared notion both in general opinion and in the labor force that there are very limited paths towards a useful skill set.

Majors with direct career paths or widespread associated industries are the ones regarded as most useful, and they are probably the first to come to mind when the question “what are the best college majors?” arises. Although these majors provide students with a solid technical preparation for a professional setting, they are by no means the only path to attaining the most important skills associated with successful laboring.

Communication skills, analytical thinking and organizational skills are among the most important competencies required for a large percentage of the industry positions in the labor market. A major in the humanities is highly effective in developing these, most likely significantly more than other major categories. The differentiation of humanities majors, therefore, resides in the replacement of technical skills deemed more useful and “difficult” by a conceptual basis specific to the field of concentration.

Even though technical skills acquired in career-oriented majors like business or engineering are useful in the labor setting, they shouldn’t exist in contraposition to the scholarly formation that provides humanities majors with skills equally as essential for fulfillment of industry roles.

The truth is, no major could ever completely prepare someone for the workforce, because the transition from an academic setting to a practical setting always comes with a learning curve. But we shouldn’t value a certain background over another, because a college major is not a measure of a person’s ability to learn or general competency.

People tend to ignore the versatility of fields, and in doing that, they project a belief that the pursuit of a passion is invalid in its “real-life” applications. But “real life” is much more complex than the department in which you decide to acquire your skills for less than 5% of your lifetime.

It is thus necessary to provide a skill-oriented approach to professionalism and to encourage students to pursue a major in fields that genuinely interest them, instead of acting in fear of not choosing the most direct path towards an economically-feasible career.

Laurisa Sastoque is a Weinberg Freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.