Mwangi: Will humanities professors ever go paperless?

Duncan Mwangi, Op-Ed Contributor

My last two years at Northwestern have taught me that humanities professors — who are some of the best faculty on campus — might be the biggest threat to tree coverage everywhere.

Humanities professors are good people. They’re excited to help you know and understand the things they’re passionate about. They don’t have a fit when you ask for accommodations or even to take time for yourself. As someone who regularly benefits from their unwavering support, I am always under the impression they must be ancient people because of their level of patience.

Many of them appear to be fellow flaming homosexuals who probably enjoy nature on their weekends off. They probably pull off great weekend fits, and they always know what TikTok sounds the kids are obsessed with — like Steve Buscemi holding a skateboard in the “How do you do fellow kids?” meme.

While some of these professors seemingly drink from a fountain of youth, when it comes to tech, they might be the children we left behind. One reason: they still like paper. While STEM professors utilize a host of interactive programs for their communication and assignment needs, humanities professors will insist on paper. Lots and lots of it. They want you to print readings and assignments. Some will even dare you to use a pen in class.

I’m not a consistently green person. I’m also not the most tech savvy person. I’ve been in and out of beginner coding spaces for a total of five years now, and have come out of each space feeling like I have a bag of rocks for a head. I tend to feel like a stranger in the room, so I either overshare and overcompensate — just like professors who don’t want to be alone in a classroom.

In my first quarter at NU, I was determined not to bring a laptop to class, so I wouldn’t get distracted. I also tried to get through class without looking at my phone, but that became more impossible with each new iPhone software update. I often carry folders of earmarked pages in my bag from ghosts of classes passed. I don’t even know why I’m complaining, I might as well be just as old.

In a sense, humanities professors are kind of my people. Do I like them giving me paper? No. Do I like that they give me a break? Always. Some have probably known what it’s like to feel stupid confronting math or science, or have probably needed a lot of grace to get through a class. Or maybe they haven’t — they do look smart and confident.

I’m also not saying STEM professors are perfect; their hell looks worse to me. I can barely sit through a STEM class without being assaulted by the thought of going back to bed. While I’m not foreclosing on the possibility that I might one day receive a tech awakening, this side of the fence has given me better days. I will stay here and take my deep long breaths, awaiting greener pasture.

So will humanities professors ever stop handing out paper? Maybe not. I can live with that. Stack that paper all the way to the ceiling and plop it on my desk like Mr. Crocker giving Timmy Turner his homework. Let Shell come up with a better PR strategy for their green issues. Let Greta Thunberg miss some algebra and cross the ocean on a shoe like Thumbelina across a pond to yell at people in suits. I might even have to retract my statement accusing humanities professors of choking nature’s lungs.

It’s the third week of class, and I already have a sheaf of papers. More will eventually find home on my desk and rock in silence every night to the radiator’s breeze. Bring on the unpredictable chaos.

Duncan Mwangi is a Medill junior. He 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.