Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 22, 2021

People should stop calling Writing Seminars a “fake” major

By RUDY MALCOM | November 2, 2017



Freshman Rudy Malcom is constantly teased by his friends about being a Writing Sems major.

“What’s your major?” Over the course of your four years as an undergraduate, you will likely be asked this question more times than you swipe your J-Card. After all, it’s the perfect small talk topic for members of your extended family or any of the miscellaneous adults you encounter.

During Orientation Week it serves as the go-to weapon for shattering the awkward silence that pervades many first conversations with fellow First-Year Mentor (FYM) group members and new floormates.

Your major might be one of the first things someone learns about you after your name and is, perhaps, almost as defining.

If you, like many of my friends, are a biomedical engineering major at Hopkins, this identifying feature is surely something to pride yourself on: The U.S. News & World Report ranks our undergraduate program as second-best in the nation.

But what if you’re a humanities major? Indeed, Hopkins is known for its top-notch STEM programs, which means there exists a (wholly false) stereotype that the University underemphasizes the humanities.

Several high school peers even questioned my decision to come here to major in Writing Seminars. My chemistry lab partner told me how great it was that, despite being “so smart,” I had chosen to pursue creative writing. Go me for following my passion!

At a party in mid-August, an acquaintance asked me what I planned to major in.

“Writing Seminars,” I said.

“No, like, what’s your major?” he said.

Thinking that the Calvin Harris music blasting had made him mishear my response, I repeated it.

“No, no, I’m asking you what your major is,” he said.

I finally told him that no matter how many times he asked, Writing Seminars would still be my major.

“Like, writing?” he asked. “You’re going to Hopkins for that?”

Well, here I am. So, you may ask, how have Hopkins students responded when I tell them that I’m Writing Sems?

“Omg, you’re so brave!”

“Wow, that’s so cool!”

“Ooh, I only know one other Writing Sems — do you know her?”

But I do not feel like some sort of mystical creature, and no, in the two months I’ve been here, I have not identified every single person in my major. There are literally 11 other people in my “Introduction to Fiction and Poetry I” class.

Whenever I speak articulately, make a half-decent pun or say something grammatically correct (which honestly doesn’t make much sense), many of my friends are quick to cheer, “Writing Sems!”

I respond “Writing Sems?” right back when they do.

But I don’t know if I’m completely okay with them expressing joking surprise when I demonstrate even a shred of understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts. I know I’m not fine with people saying, “Don’t worry, you can still go to law school” — as if I need to add some sort of veneer of reality to my vocational ambitions just because I don’t have a mountain of STEM job prospects.

Once, a friend gave me a fake dollar bill because it would be more money, she said, than I would ever make with my degree. My friend should not laugh at me for saying I’m writing a poem, when he knows that I spend just as many hours on classwork as he does, sitting across from him nightly in the Hut.

Writing Seminars is not, as described by my floormate, a “fake” major. Do you know how hard it is to create a short story every week?

I still suffer mini-existential crises about my creative abilities and competency as a writer daily. My humanities courses are demanding and challenge me more than I have ever been challenged before, and I love it. Through reading and writing, I am gaining insights into my own and others’ realities and perceptions, learning about what it means to be a human in this time and place and mastering how to use language to affect how others think and feel.

Of course, I know (and hope) that you’re just teasing Writing Sems playfully. I can’t say that I don’t often enjoy it. But recognize that everyone at Hopkins should be proud of their major and that the humanities are, by no means, a less respectable path of study, my dear, semi-illiterate engineering friends.

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