BY AMY MROTEK
The way the conversation plays out makes it seem like we’ve all been trained from some collegiate script. You meet someone new, learn their name, maybe exchange a firm-but-not-too-firm handshake. The next line to follow? “What’s your major?”
I think in some way or another, we all relish in the proverbial clichés of our responses. The intellectual-angst of philosophy, the art hipster, the holier-than-thou work ethic of the natural sciences (because they have labs, so they know what real work is, unlike all you lazy, humanities-studying oafs). Like scribbles on a nametag, we offer this piece of ourselves with dictionary-definition precision, a final transaction computing one’s character wrapped up in course load.
With or without proof, your chosen major often courts your perceived intellect. Consider the last time you thought a communications major carried the sharpest mind in the class. As a communications major myself, I can say with satirical certainty it doesn’t happen all that much. I can feel the skeptical stares of adults burrowing in when I relay what I study, the judgment oozing from glands, followed quickly by the “So what are you going to do with that?” in the politest condescension.
Rarely do answers to that question seriously click. Instead, the conversation is plugged with preconceived notions of a major and its partaker’s success. Degrees with a clear-cut picture, those where the diploma and the profession are practically the same word, are almost never questioned: Studying engineering? Well of course, you’ll be an engineer. You’re an accounting major? You’ll help me file my taxes one day.
Anyone whose area of interest lies in the abstract can no doubt relate, their rationale and work ethic constantly judged as inferior to classmates who set their sights on what’s deemed a more prosperous career. Studies concentrated in conversation and ideas hardly elicit enthusiasm in a world very much fixed on the material. Nietzsche may be fun to poke holes through in Boyle, but it won’t land you a job fresh out of school. Employers typically don’t ask how well you’ve compared and contrasted Gospel versions of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s not stuffy judgment mouthing off; it’s just the raw truth.
The flipside can be felt just as heavily with STEM-related studies, too. Do you consider the chemistry major creatively void, with no hobbies outside of the lab, unable to appreciate poetry or painting? Is that group of business majors living next door somehow barren of grandiose dreams simply because they’ve allied themselves with a cubicle? Have these students short-sold themselves into a dry, one-dimensioned major perpetuating a dry, one-dimensioned world?
At surface glance, there are undoubtedly traits that cross-pollinate those in a particular discipline. It’s safe to say an English major probably enjoys reading or writing, if not both. The human services undergrad more than likely has a distinct interest in social work and engaging firsthand with communal issues. The list goes droningly on.
A college setting is ripe with opportunities to hammer down on these accepted academic perceptions. Many of us may never find another environment saturated with people of all different personalities, interests and hobbies mingling across academic pursuits. But rather than acknowledging that truth and cultivating diverse conversation, we box majors into prototypes. You are smart if you study x, y and z, dumb if not. You’ll find a job with this word stamped on a piece of paper at graduation. Good luck to the rest.
And while we all dabble in such projective biases, we fundamentally rob each other of our puzzle-piece identities. Frankly, it’s disappointing. I’m not only troubled but bored with people who display such a blatant lack of awareness as to what makes someone tick, who doesn’t genuinely care to ask a person why they’re studying what they’re studying, what they hope to achieve, what they yield to dreams. With people who just aren’t curious.
Who knows, maybe the most sincere of us on campus are those whose major is still undecided. Whether that’s rooted in apathy or confusion or any shade between, they testify to this process, toeing external judgments while weighing their own passions, goals, desires, mapping out what major will work for them.
We’d do ourselves a solid favor dishing out a bit more inquisitiveness and respect. And hey, if that’s just too hard to get around, maybe there’s a class you can take to help.