Parting thoughts from a humanities student

UConn students study on the campus green next to the Student Union Oct. 19, 2016. (Jason Jiang/ The Daily Campus)

In a little over a week, I will graduate with a degree in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. I can say that now with a proud grin stretched across my face, but that has not always been the case. I love what I study, but I have not always been able to take pride in it. The University of Connecticut and our culture as a whole evidently favors STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), claiming that they are more useful and more important. Many people, including President Susan Herbst, cite higher income as a reason to invest more into these fields. This leaves the humanities overlooked and underfunded and trains people to scoff at those who study humanities, thinking they are pursuing useless fields.

I have a professor who described my study of ancient languages and literature as a type of protest. She reminded me of all the times I had to defend my decisions and explain their value. She asked how many times I had to describe the importance of the humanities. My answer: daily.

It can get tiresome when you grow to expect scoffs at the mention of your major, but then I remember that it was the humanities that taught me how to justify my studies and empathize with those who do not yet understand. The humanities develop analysis and writing skills so that a person can look at the facts, form an opinion and communicate it to others. Reading allows people to understand others’ perspectives, reminding them that their thought process is not the only one. The study of history provides perspective and cultural awareness, as well as fosters consideration for the ways societies function. These are a few of the skills cultivated through an education in the humanities; the skills that assure me my degree is far from worthless.

There is no doubt about the importance of heart transplants or developing clean energy. These fields have significant and visible outcomes, which as a society, we value greatly. However, when observing the tension that is currently tangible in our country, the skills that might alleviate the situation do not involve computer codes or a microscope; instead, we must turn to varying perspectives, empathy, and communication.

UConn’s culture clearly values STEM students more than those of humanities. It is a common opinion that STEM courses are more difficult and their students are smarter. This higher value of STEM fields is especially visible in university spending. UConn’s Next Generation Connecticut is a $1.5 billion investment focused on expanding UConn’s STEM programs. This includes accepting more STEM students, hiring more STEM professors and providing more STEM facilities. The university makes it clear what they find valuable through their spending, and it is no surprise that its students have both perceived and absorbed these opinions. President Susan Herbst stated, “STEM just takes a lot of money…I don’t expect the humanities…to bring in great external resources…We hope to invent – put revenue where it generates revenue.”. This thought process is inherently harmful. The value of education is more than the money it generates. Education develops the mind as a whole, both on its path to a future career, as a human being and member of society.

I never pursued my field to make a protest. In fact, considering my major a protest almost concedes those claims that the humanities have no intrinsic value, as if to say, “I know that studying Cicero will not develop a new medicine, but I’m doing it anyway.” Instead, the humanities to me are a type of medicine providing insight and solutions to various conflicts from minute disagreements to vast social tension. Perhaps it is not easy to put a price tag on this work. Those who pursue the humanities understand their economic position as compared to STEM fields, but pursue them anyway because of their other values.

UConn’s decision not to invest in the humanities as it does with other fields displays that the university only views the economic value of education. From experiences outside this university, it is clear that this view saturates public opinion far beyond Storrs. I am a proud Classics student, but there are many people who are ashamed of their field or have chosen STEM fields because of the stigma surrounding the humanities. This is upsetting. Rather than ranking certain fields as better than others, we should recognize the significance of each field and cultivate love for all education.


Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.