Debunking Criticisms About the 'Real World' Value of the Humanities
I encourage you to Google the word “humanity” and read the words that pop up:
- The human race, human beings collectively
- Humaneness: benevolence, compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance…
These words can all apply to the disciplines we call “the humanities”: literature, languages, philosophy, religion, history — the academic disciplines that, arguably, have the farthest global reach and take the deepest dive into human nature.
Students in the humanities are sometimes seen as lacking in direction and not being prepared for the “real world.”
I work as a staff advisor in the Division of Languages and Literatures, and I advise majors in comparative literature, religious studies, French, Italian, German and Russian, along with the human rights minor, Arabicminor and the UC Davis Humanities Program. (Read more about religious studies in our blog post “Religious Studies Majors Study What Moves People and Nations.”)
I love the diversity of my departments and the engagement I have with the students and faculty. And that’s why I want to debunk a few myths about humanities majors and minors and the students who choose them.
Myth No. 1: Math- and science-oriented students don’t do humanities
Yes, they do! It’s wonderful to have students walk into my office who have a passion for math and science. When they sit down, and we start talking about what brought them to see me, I learn they have a passion for humanities, as well, whether it be a language for cultural growth abroad, a comparative literature course that allows them to read and research world authors, or religious studies so they can better understand contemporary ethical issues and people from diverse religious backgrounds.
The math and science majors may really benefit from using both sides of their brains by adding humanities coursework— or even a double major or a minor in the area. They will find they enjoy humanities classes as a complement to lab work — along with appreciating the bonus of smaller class sizes.
Myth No. 2: Being a humanities major is a waste of tuition money
Quite the contrary, a humanities major can be added value to your resume and has other concrete benefits beyond college in so many ways:
- It fosters your ability to analyze, read and interpret situations, events and relationships. The work you do in humanities courses can broaden your sense of the range of human experience and, in doing so, help develop your understanding, sensitivity and compassion for others.
- Humanities courses expand your communication skills, both in speech and in writing — in English or in a second or third language. Being able to analyze and think critically — skills you can develop as a humanities major — can make you a better citizen, a more informed consumer, a more desirable job candidate.
- A wider view can help you decide the path after school you want to take, whether it be a gap year, a direct route to graduate school, or work or an internship in a field you might not consider otherwise.
- You could be among the UC Davis alumni with humanities degrees applying to medical school, vet school, law school and graduate programs in individual disciplines. Or you could be one of the many Aggies finding rewarding jobs in government or nongovernmental organizations, accounting and finance, startup technology companies, and teaching.
Myth No. 3: Humanities classes aren’t interesting
Don’t let others’ opinions about a humanities major or minor discourage you. If you are interested in the department, in a particular course or in the subject matter, seek it out. The faculty, students, and staff will be available for you, making sure that you are taking the right courses and getting connected with others who share your passion for the subject.
Humanities majors and minors have so much to offer from the perspective of diversity, culture, language, literature, religion and beliefs, and human rights. All of these have a common factor of creating and empowering good people to go out and do good things in the world. I encourage you to find a major that drives you to think critically, analyze intently and ask questions eagerly.
At the end of the day, week, or quarter, be you! Do what you love to learn. Take a humanities class because you won’t be disappointed. You may even find a great major that speaks to your values and interests.
— Amy Lowrey, undergraduate advisor in the College of Letters and Science