In Defense of the Humanities
An editorial by Lexie Broemmer, editor-in-chief of The Falcon
As I was starting my freshman year at QU, I decided to major in Business Management.
I didn’t do this because I liked business or anything to do with it; I did it because it seemed like the most practical major for me.
I mean, a degree in business would help me get a job anywhere, right? It, combined with hard work, would ensure that I’d be successful and live a decent, if not comfortable, lifestyle, right?
I ended up having a big problem, though, because I hated my business classes and I hated the major in general. I’m not big on numbers, sales or marketing, so I don’t know why I ever thought I’d be able to stick with the major.
I was so unhappy with my major that it tainted my perception of QU and even made me think about transferring schools. I obviously didn’t transfer schools, but I did change my major to Journalism and English and picked up a minor in History. That was the best decision I have ever made.
I’ve always loved writing and reading, which is why I decided to double major in Journalism and English. I really could’ve made my life a whole lot easier if I had chosen them from the start, but I don’t know that I would’ve appreciated them, especially English, as much as I do now if I hadn’t had that experience of struggling to be happy as a Business major first.
My whole point in telling you this is to demonstrate how important the humanities are, how they’ve affected my life and how they can affect everyone—if you let them.
The humanities, as defined by the Stanford Humanities Center, are “the study of how people process and document the human experience.” They include literature, history, philosophy, art, language studies and religious studies, and by studying them, we learn about the human experience and come to understand those who came before us as well as our contemporaries. They also give us the opportunity to make the human experience and the world better for those who come after us.
When we begin to understand the human experience, we develop empathy for others. For those who don’t know what empathy is, its Merriam-Webster definition is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
For an example that’s not entirely academic, the new TV show “This Is Us” makes people feel empathetic for its characters. For many people, watching Kevin, Kate, Randall and their parents face their plights evokes not just sympathy but empathy, which is why viewers are often moved to tears every single episode. I say this because sympathy is more about caring about another’s suffering, whereas empathy is actually feeling another’s suffering. In other words, it’s putting yourself in another’s shoes and experiencing his or her suffering as your own.
When you feel empathy for others, it will hopefully lead you to do something about other people’s suffering.
Aside from empathy, the humanities also teach you about the past and people’s and societies’ past mistakes.
Think of your history classes. If your experience is anything like mine, you probably learned about World War II and Nazi Germany several times throughout your schooling. This is obviously important as it teaches you not to sit by and let another holocaust occur. The sad truth, however, is that mass genocides occurred after WW II. Pol Pot, the leader of Cambodia and head of the Khmer Rouge, killed about 1.5 million of his people, both directly and indirectly, from 1975 to 1979. In 1994, there was a Rwandan genocide, in which approximately 800,000 people were murdered by their government. From 1992 to 1995, Bosnian Serb forces murdered about 100,000 civilians. In 2003, a genocide began in Darfur, and it is still going on today.
My point here is that history is important and needs to be taught so that we, meaning the world, can try to stop horrible atrocities like these from happening. History– and the humanities as a whole– teach us that it’s not okay to live in our own little bubbles.
You may be wondering why I’m going on and on about the humanities and their importance, so I’ll get to the point now.
The humanities are under attack. And that should scare you.
Not only do they teach us about the past and help us understand the human experience, but they also add culture to our lives and can create brilliant new thinkers, writers, artists and humanitarians.
The humanities go hand-in-hand with a liberal arts education, which QU provides to its students. A lot of people don’t understand the value of the liberal arts and think they should be wiped out.
For instance, business.com reports that “business and military leaders complain that students are ill-educated for the work that needs doing. For example, Walter Russell Mead recommends scrapping liberal arts in higher education and replacing them with skill-based certificates, and The Council on Foreign Relations recommends an education system that produces better soldiers, security analysts, managers and producers.”
This is terrifying; if the liberal arts and/or humanities are not studied, we’re going to lose culture and the pursuit of knowledge and end up living in one of those awful dystopian worlds from a young adult novel, one where all that matters is money and how much of it you can make for your company and for you to survive.
That being said, I want to confront one more issue surrounding the humanities. Just because you majored in one in college doesn’t mean you’re not going to end up with a great career someday. As an English major, for example, you develop excellent writing, communication and critical thinking skills that make you marketable for any job. If you don’t believe me, then I urge you to take a look at dearenglishmajor.com as well as this article from Inside Higher Ed, in which Mark Cuban defends the liberal arts.
I’m writing this editorial now because, as we all know, QU is facing a significant financial crisis. I have no idea where the school stands on cuts, but should it need to cut academic departments, it would be an absolute shame to cut any of the humanities. I also write this to urge anyone who may want to major in a humanity to just do it, or at the very least, take an extra class in the subject and just see where it leads you.
I know it’s easy to get frustrated with the school. Though I don’t live on campus and can’t fully appreciate the on-campus experience and the problems that come with it, you shouldn’t don’t be so quick to bash QU.
Rather, you should do what you can to support it.
After all, it still offers us a liberal arts education, which is of the utmost importance in this day and age.