As an English major, I know I’m not the first to experience the stigma surrounding the humanities. The age-old judgment seems to be that the humanities are simply easier than STEM. There’s just less work—not every question has one right answer, so many answers can be perceived to be correct. Even now, as I attend a Jesuit, liberal arts university, I’ve faced the insulting stigma that my major is simply easier than others.
The idea that the humanities are easier than STEM has frustrated and confused me for a long time. And for an equally long period of time, I’ve defended the humanities and myself for choosing them. But I want to ask why I’ve even had to defend myself and my English major in the first place. Why have I had to explain myself? Why have I felt as if I am letting down others by not being a “woman in STEM?” Where has the ridiculous stigma concerning the ease of the liberal arts even come from?
I’d like to start by investigating whether the stigma is supported by even a grain of truth: Are the humanities, in fact, easier than STEM? Factually, in 2010 throughout all liberal arts colleges, the five majors that see the highest GPAs are all within the humanities (education, language, English, music, and religion). On the other hand, the five majors with the lowest GPAs are within the STEM field (chemistry, math, economics, psychology, and biology).
This difference can be chalked up to the fact that professors of STEM classes only ever take one right answer, whereas the humanities are much more open-ended. But these sweeping results don’t take into account factors like specific teaching styles and the strength of these programs. Across the board in America, more and more colleges are simply putting more effort and attention into their STEM programs of study. In fact, colleges spend a significantly greater amount of money on majors in science than they do on those in the humanities, like philosophy and English. Of course, science classes will require more equipment than literature or French classes, but regardless, America is clearly putting more funding and attention into STEM education. This discrepancy might explain why STEM programs are often more developed and more difficult—because American colleges simply care less about the humanities.
Another aspect that people fail to consider is that no one can really do what humanities majors do— Just like I couldn’t do what a STEM major does. There are countless students going into STEM who actually hate math and science but are told that a STEM major will help them in the career field. Some of these students probably have a real passion for other majors such as film or English, but they’re barred from studying what they actually enjoy. Naturally, if these students are forced into majors they won’t enjoy, their GPAs will be lower, and they will care less about their education.
You rarely see students nowadays being forced into the humanities, though. Instead, we have to fight to study what we want. And so when we do pursue our fields of passion, we excel. And we record those higher GPAs that make our school look good. It’s a shame that we get so few resources in comparison. Even at BC, opportunities like career fairs and workshops are geared toward students in business and STEM. Students in the humanities are made to hunt for the few career opportunities the school provides.
I’ve always wondered where this stigma even originates, and on what grounds it grew to become the prejudice we see today. For example, whenever I mention to STEM students that I’m an English major, they always exclaim, “Whoa, I could never do that!” Then they tell me about how they hate writing essays, how they can never find the right words, and how it’s really cool that I’m studying English. But there’s always that subtle subtext of the question, “So what are you going to do with that? What are you going to do with an English major? What is there to do? Teach?” All of these questions make me feel as if they view English as a second-rate major. As if they believe teaching is all English majors can do, and as if it’s a mediocre way of life.
For starters it should be said that teachers are some of the most diligent and underappreciated employees in America. None of the STEM students I see on campus would be where they are today without the teachers that showed them the way, from kindergarten through college. But teaching isn’t the only thing an English major can do. Regardless of the fact that business is actually booming for humanities majors, my field of study is no less valuable than one in STEM simply because it’s less quantifiable. And to use the words of STEM students themselves, students in STEM often can’t do what I do as an English major. They don’t have the same affinity for it just as I don’t have have an affinity for, say, biology.
I, as a humanities major, don’t need to constantly justify my choices. I don’t have to apologize for myself or my passions, and you don’t have to either. I wish I could say that the world will change, and that the tides will turn in favor of the liberal arts. But I can’t say that with confidence.
More and more, every day, people turn to the STEM field and forget about the beauty and culture that lives within the humanities. They forget about the communication and writing we need to build lasting bonds and understandings of each other. But the one thing I do know is that I am done defending my interests. I am done trying to prove that I work just as hard as the STEM kids. Humanities students are passionate about their studies, and they are successful after graduation. Both STEM and humanities studies are important—the existence of one does not negate the other. So to the next person who dubiously asks me what I plan on doing with my English major, I’ll happily tell them that they can worry about themselves.