The university I attend—a glass and brick collage nestled in the suburbs of Long Island—is regarded as a haven for computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and the like. Nationally ranked in the top 100s by the 2018 US News & World Report, the school churns out engineers, psychologists and future doctors by the thousands each year.
And yet, here I exist.
“I’m a Philosophy major.”
I can’t help but cringe when I hear it. The statement is quite ironic, given how less than 10% of the students here are Humanities majors. While respectful nods are reserved for the chemical engineers and actuarial scientists, the responses I’ve received have been infused with confusion, disappointment, and dare I say, contempt.
Honestly, I can’t blame them. philosophy, on its own, raises enough eyebrows. But philosophy at a school pruned and plucked for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?
Originally I chose this college for its economic affordability and close proximity to home. The university claims to be a well-rounded liberal arts college, boasting reputable faculty and a remodeled Humanities building. However, a walk around campus speaks otherwise: Everything from bus advertisements to newspaper headlines, website statistics to building names — this environment screams for the attention of scientists, not artists. Considering that
And yet, here I exist.
Don’t get me wrong; the classes are relevant and the professors are most definitely qualified and respected in their fields. Still, I feel like a fish on dry land when I hear about budget cuts to fellow departments, such as Theater Arts and Comparative Literature. I’ve considered abandoning ship, transferring to a school better suited to my needs. And something tells me that this fish-out-of-water feeling won’t dissipate anytime soon.
With President Trump’s March 2017 proposal to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, it’s clear that philosophers and poets no longer hold the same prestige as they once did in Ancient Greece. Obviously, we live in a different age. One driven by cars instead of horses, and smartphones instead of messenger pigeons.
However, students of the Humanities nurture skills that Google A.I. can’t replicate. The human skills to empathize and persuade others can come from reading Shakespeare. Brainstorming and innovation can be gained from debating about the writings of Socrates. Moreover, the proliferation of national and international conflicts only shows that Humanities majors are needed more than ever. For example, journalism teaches us to communicate concisely and persuasively. English allows us to espouse different perspectives or ideas. History makes sure that our arguments are backed up with context, and Philosophy asks us to think outside the box. All of these skills, and many more, are necessary for conflict resolution or problem solving within our professional and personal circles. It might behoove the President to take notes.
Thankfully, President Trump’s plans haven’t come into fruition. Nevertheless, when both President Stanley and President Donald Trump, decline full support of my academic endeavors, I can’t help but laugh more nervously and sleep more restlessly. Now, self-deprecating jokes about being a starving artist are taken with a grain of salt. Suddenly the scientist-named buildings seem to scream louder and louder.
Philosophers are needed in society. I know this as fact. The problem is: are we wanted?