Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

STEM and humanities majors need to respect each other

By JACQUI NEBER | April 27, 2017


JHU-A/Public domain Gilman Hall is the main building for the humanities, and it shouldn’t be a joke.

In 2016 I tweeted: “concept: people at this fricken school actually respect each others’ majors,” and I hope to reiterate that argument more eloquently now. I’m a Writing Seminars major. You might hear that and think it’s pretty cool. I do, too. I love writing, with all its struggles. However, the reaction I get too often is one of almost-pity, disinterest and mild laughter.

Some people just say, “oh.”

A culture of major shaming runs rampant at Hopkins, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not when the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences is regularly called the “School of Arts and Crafts,” and it’s barely a joke. Not when the administration focuses so heavily on STEM. Not when faculty make jokes about the students in the class majoring in the “easy” stuff.

Not when the biomedical engineering program falling to number two in the U.S. is a disappointment, but prospective students haven’t even heard of the Writing Seminars program or its reputation as one of the best creative writing programs in the country.

Lack of respect for the humanities at Hopkins is damaging for students who truly love their majors, who are passionate about their fields, who are taking courses that might not involve math but are just as challenging in their own way. It hurts to hear our entire School of Arts & Sciences reduced to Arts & Crafts. It makes us feel as though we don’t deserve to be here.

I’ve spent three years here with acute feelings of displacement: Why am I here, if I can’t succeed in these particular classes? Why am I not told that my major is necessary to positively change the world? Will Writing Sems ever earn some respect? What the hell is Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering process analysis?

Everyone here at Hopkins wrestles with challenging coursework every day. We’re all inspired by classes that encourage us to rise to the occasion. We’re all intelligent. We’re all the same person at the core: masochists who love working hard, who want to help others in our own ways. Every major here can do that. Every major here is valuable.

I respect STEM majors. I could never do some of the assignments I see my classmates struggling with on M-level every day. Give me a page with numbers like that, and my head spins. Give me a physics problem, and I’ll probably feel a little faint. Give me an MCAT prep book, and while I could definitely understand the material, that’s just not the way my brain works best.

Humanities and STEM majors at Hopkins should be seen as different sides of one brain: Softer majors are the creative and intuitive right side, harder sciences are the logical and reasonable left side. You can’t go through life without both sides of your brain, and we can’t achieve a healthier culture at Hopkins without respect for every major here.

I think an understanding and respect of both sides of this school — how they interact, work together, contribute to separate functions of society — is essential to making Hopkins a better place. Hopkins is soul-crushing for everyone. We shouldn’t make it worse just because people have different interests.

You will be able to appreciate a painting of the human body more if you understand how it works. You will be able to see the beauty in a surgeon performing an operation if you think of each scalpel stroke as a note of music.

Students majoring in biomedical engineering, computer science, public health, applied math and so many others are working towards jobs in fields that just might help save the world. That is a central fact of Hopkins life. To diminish the work of our peers in these areas would be to diminish some of the finest work being done at our school.

But that freshman discovering his passion for how kids’ home environments affect their chances of developing certain personality disorders? He could go on to become a leading child psychologist, helping kids all across the country. That history major working on her thesis? She could become one of the most influential activists of our generation.

As for me, the Writing Seminars program has given me the tools to become the journalist I want to be — one who uses storytelling to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

So let’s change the culture of major shaming at Hopkins into one of respect, appreciation and acknowledgment of everyone’s individual talents. Everyone here wants to get a great GPA and just maybe change the world with support from their peers. I’m hoping the next time I tweet about major culture at Hopkins, it will reflect a healthier environment for all of us.

Jacqui Neber is a junior Writing Seminars major from Northport, N.Y. She is a Managing Editor.

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