Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 17, 2021

It is time for us to start respecting humanities majors at Hopkins

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | September 5, 2019

LESTER SPENCE/CC BY 2.0 The majority of the University’s humanities departments are housed in Gilman Hall.

There is little more important than our behavior towards other people. Nobody needs to be told twice that when someone is different from another, we inexplicably feel an urge towards hatred. 

What I want to talk about, though, is something seemingly a little more innocuous. I think it is a genuine problem that needs to be addressed, one that goes to the root of our respect for each other as students here.

I’m speaking, of course, of the plight of humanities majors at Hopkins. 

You may laugh, and I wouldn’t blame you. This isn’t exactly the most pressing of all issues. Frankly, it’s not even close to the most important moral problem we face on campus today. 

That being said, I think it’s really important we stop pretending that it doesn’t matter at all.

There is a constant atmosphere of belittlement and disrespect towards humanities majors at Hopkins. People aren’t intentionally vitriolic or spiteful. 

However, when push comes to shove, the fact is that very frequently people just aren’t nice to someone when they hear that that person is majoring in the humanities. Say what you will, but being nice matters, and it’s something that we as a student body are not always very good at here.

Toxic cultures breed greater toxicity. When casual hatred is tolerated by the majority, the minority often has little choice but to accept it. 

At Hopkins, around 544 students were majoring in the humanities in Fall 2016. At times, it can feel like a pretty tight-knit group, but that’s often just because we feel the judgement emanating from the majority of the student body.

I don’t remember the exact instance when I first heard a comment directed towards me about how I was never going to be employed just because I’m majoring in Writing Seminars. At the time, though, I probably laughed. It might have even been a joke that was actually funny. 

It didn’t just happen one time though. This is a regular occurrence in the life of a student majoring in the humanities on this campus. Constant criticism of how we don’t care about our future or about the future of the world, about how we don’t take real classes or don’t even go to school; these comments build up.

It’s about time we stop pretending that this culture of mocking people just for pursuing their interests acceptable or appropriate. Treating people with kindness and respect is a moral necessity, no matter what. Just because someone is majoring in something that’s not career-focused doesn’t make them an exception to that golden rule.

I won’t pretend that I’ve always been above this. I’ve made my fair share of retorts to my non-humanities friends and others. I’ve said that they only care about money or getting a job and that they don’t actually learn anything of worth in their classes. It’s never been the right thing to say, but the frustration can mount up sometimes. 

The actual truth is of course that many people love their Computer Science or Biomedical Engineering classes. That’s great. If nothing else, I want it to be absolutely clear that I support people pursuing the things they want to learn about, no matter the subject. 

All I ask is that the same respect be paid to me and my fellow humanities students in return. 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure to see someone be told how cool it is that they’re majoring in History of Art or Philosophy, then you know the power that such kind words can have. The way people light up when they meet a new person and discover that they are both humanities majors can be a genuinely beautiful thing. 

It’s something I try to appreciate every time I witness it happening. What must be understood, though, is that for every time they hear that positivity, there are far more times that they receive judgment or criticism. 

I can only speak for myself, but I personally have received that kind of negative reaction from family, friends and frankly random people who I meet and talk with about college. The putting down can at times feel almost non-stop.

At Hopkins there is a deeply ingrained culture to mock and ridicule people majoring in the humanities. Nobody should be emotionally scarred because they are asked about what they’re planning on doing in their life. 

If these comments were so benign, I wouldn’t be writing this. I think we all know they’re not.

More often than not, derisive questions and comments are full of harsh judgement. Those who make these comments frequently mean to imply that they are not only studying something more important, but also that at the end of the day they are a more important person, period. 

It’s one thing to be a running joke, but when the punchline is that you don’t actually matter, the sting doesn’t exactly just go away. Sure, I chose my major, but I didn’t choose to be laughed at because I love to write. Besides, studying something that fascinates you should never be the cause for pain of any sort.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a hard problem to solve. We need to be better. We need to be nicer. 

There’s no doubt that there are greater injustices and larger evils out there. But here, on this campus, this is a real problem that we can and should solve.

Binyamin Novetsky is a sophomore from Teaneck, New Jersey studying Writing Seminars.

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