When I was in high school, I tried forcing myself to love biology and chemistry. I knew that if I pursued a major in those kinds of subjects in the future, my peers would deem me more intelligent. It was only when I got older that I stopped feeling the need to pretend to like science and math, and instead felt confident to pursue my interest in the humanities.
Feeling pressure to pursue a career in the STEM field is not unique to me, as there has long been the notion that obtaining a degree in the humanities is pointless. However, the value of the humanities beyond just professional achievement is often overlooked. It is essential to recognize the importance of the humanities in times of crisis when people are in need of comfort.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people found themselves with an immense amount of free time coupled with feelings of uncertainty and weariness. In order to get through difficult times, people found solace through reading books about characters also facing hardships. Literature showed itself to be powerful because it allowed people to relate to characters and to escape from troubling situations at home.
Visual art is also a valuable sector of the humanities because it facilitates collective healing. After the tragic death of basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, beautiful murals were created throughout Los Angeles to commemorate both of their legacies. Since Bryant was a role model for many, the murals allowed for people to mourn together over the loss of an important figure.
Simply looking at sites such as 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 for all of us to marvel at. Being able to examine history through an artistic lens in a communal space is a truly unique experience that should not be undermined. Visual art can start conversations between members of a community and can lead to a greater understanding of differing perspectives.
Some people may try to downplay the significance of the humanities because STEM fields help society progress technologically; however, both areas are equally important for a well-rounded society. By uplifting the humanities, I am not downplaying the importance of STEM, but rather reminding people that the humanities are worth caring about, too.
It is worthwhile to note that since 2013, STEM has been renamed STEAM in some places — now adding an A for arts. While it is promising that the arts are being recognized, this revised acronym is not nearly as commonly used or as popular as STEM. Moreover, changing the acronym from STEM to STEAM is not enough to automatically ensure the arts will be properly acknowledged and respected.
We must remember that STEM and the humanities coexist. For example, the climate crisis that has been examined by scientific sources is regularly discussed through visual art or even creative books for kids. Examining the climate crisis outside of a strictly scientific lens can help people come to terms with 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 fear that focusing on the humanities is something to be embarrassed about, remember the positive impact that visual art and literature have had only in the last few years and imagine how much more can still be done. The humanities need more creative thinkers that can bring people much-needed peace and reassurance. In order for society to function and thrive, we need people from all fields who are proud of the work they do.
Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She enjoys reading and writing.