January 31, 2014 by Skyler Paltell
I walked in to Wawa last week with the intention of buying a coffee, and left instead with a coffee and a quarter life crisis. For the second time that week, the cashier was decidedly unimpressed when he asked what I was majoring in and I informed him I was studying English and Studio Art.
This hasn’t just happened at Wawa—it has happened at the Trader Joe’s in New Town, at parties, with the tourists I interact with at work. It would appear that a major in the humanities is an invitation for criticism, inspiring such comments as “What are you going to do with that?” and, “Are you going to be a teacher?” Never mind that I wrote sixty pages worth of papers last semester and created a six foot tall landscape drawing—I am deemed less impressive because my talents aren’t quite as desirable in the job market.
W&M is a liberal arts college, and thank goodness for that—here, there are just as many anthropology and philosophy majors as there are pre-med students. Here, it is not frowned upon to specialize in creative fields and the soft sciences, despite society’s disdain for non-STEM fields. Within the college bubble, I feel equally qualified for employment as any computer science major.
I have no doubt that the market is harder for humanities majors—it is an unforgiving work force, one where qualitative talents are overlooked in favor of quantitative skills. Even with a prestigious, $200,000 dollar degree, I can be sure to look forward to a competitive job market and a significant chance of unemployment. Despite the fact that I have worked hard, we have all worked hard, for those of us graduating with liberal arts majors, the market will be all the more uncertain.
Despite these difficulties, however, I do not regret my choice to pursue my passion. I struggle with math and science, I positively hate numbers—I will write you a haiku in 30 seconds flat, but give me a math problem and I am rendered incoherent. There is so much pressure to major in a financially stable field, one with a guaranteed paycheck, but for those of us without those skills, that option is simply nonexistent. I could no more major in computer science than I could climb Mount Everest in a swimsuit, because my brain simply is not circuited for numbers. Tell me to draw a pear—sure, I’ll draw you a pear, and it will be a good pear—my skills lie in the creative realm, and that does not make me any less intelligent than a math major.
This is why universities like William & Mary are essential, because for those of us with skills in the humanities, liberal arts colleges provide a supportive environment to explore our passions. A W&M economics major once told me, “we need to incentive the arts”—and it’s true. In a world with no English majors, no art minors, no sociology students, there would be no beauty and no novelty. Humanities majors, despite the stigma we face, are just as instrumental to society as STEM majors—our journey is just a little bit harder.