When I was in high school, I tried to force myself to like biology and chemistry. I knew that if I pursued a major in these kinds of subjects in the future, my peers would judge me as smarter. It wasn’t until I got older that I stopped feeling the need to pretend to love science and math, and instead felt confident to pursue my interest in the humanities.
Feeling the pressure to pursue a career in STEM is not unique to me, as it has long been thought that earning a degree in STEM the human sciences are useless. However, the value of the humanities beyond mere professional success is often overlooked. It is essential to recognize the importance of the humanities in times of crisis when people need reassurance.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people found themselves with an immense amount of free time associated with feelings of uncertainty and weariness. To get through the hard times, people have found comfort reading books about characters who are also struggling. Literature has been shown to be powerful because it has allowed people to relate to characters and escape troubling situations at home.
The visual arts are also a valuable sector of the humanities as they facilitate collective healing. After the tragic death basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, beautiful murals were created across Los Angeles to commemorate their two legacies. Since Bryant was a role model for many, the murals allowed people to cry together following the loss of an important character.
Just check out sites like Chicano Park in San Diego – a historic landmark created in 1971 after the creation of the I-5 freeway destroyed a middle-class neighborhood – shows how visual art can capture the past, present and future to amaze us all. Being able to examine history through an artistic lens in a community space is a truly unique experience that should not be compromised. Visual art can initiate conversations between members of a community and can lead to a better understanding of different perspectives.
Some people may try to downplay the importance of the humanities because STEM fields help society to advance technologically; however, both areas are equally important to a well-balanced society. In elevating the humanities, I am not downplaying the importance of STEM, but rather remind people that the humanities are also worth considering.
Interestingly, since 2013, STEM has been renamed TO SMOKE in some places – now adding an A for arts. While there is promise that the arts will be recognized, this revised acronym is not as commonly used or as popular as STEM. Moreover, changing the acronym from STEM to STEAM is not enough to automatically ensure that the arts will be properly recognized and respected.
We must remember that STEM and the humanities coexist. For example, the climate crisis which has been reviewed by scientific sources is regularly discussed through visual art or even creative books for kids. Examining the climate crisis outside of a strictly scientific focus can help people understand the scale of the problem. If people can visualize the climate crisis through art, they can better understand what can be done to help. Instead of polarizing STEM and the humanities, it would be much more productive to see what they can accomplish together.
For those students who are concerned that focusing on the humanities might be embarrassing, remember the positive impact that the visual arts and literature have only had in recent years and imagine it all. that it is still possible to do. The humanities need more creative thinkers who can give people the much-needed peace and comfort. For society to function and prosper, we need people from all walks of life who take pride in the work they do.
Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She enjoys reading and writing.