Liberal Arts is not synonymous with dumb

Published March 31, 2016 on Medium.

“Raise your hand if you’re in this major because you can’t do math.”

Yes, this was an actual request from an actual professor, according to a friend of mine studying advertising and public relations. This is not the first time I’ve heard of or experienced myself something like this. There seems to be a common misconception that if one chooses a major that is more artistic or falls under the realm of Liberal Arts, they do so because they aren’t as talented in math or science fields.

This probably comes from the right brain versus left brain debate that I’m sure you’ve heard before. The right hemisphere of the brain tends to access our more creative, artistic skills while the left hemisphere caters to mathematics, computation and language. The idea is that people tend to be stronger in aspects related to one side of the brain than the other. Despite the fact that there have been studies that have discounted this, this type of thinking still persists.

Thus, we get the common stereotype that I’m sure many of my fellow Liberal Arts students have encountered: that we are inept when it comes to the STEM fields, or that we simply aren’t as smart as our counterparts in fields that require more math and science. How insulting, right?

College Of Liberal Arts faculty and staff at RIT welcome the incoming freshman during the 2015 orientation. I am on the far left.

Although math and science do not come as easily to me as writing, I certainly do not struggle in the fields. I firmly believe I could have gone to school to become an engineer and would have excelled. I’ve never suffered in my math or science classes, securing As in all of them. I know plenty of people who have struggled with math and science more than I have and they went on to be engineers or scientists. When you tell me that I’m only studying in a Liberal Arts field because I can’t do math you’re not only belittling me, you’re belittling my intelligence and my passion.

Certainly, there are people in the world who excel at reading, writing and critical thinking and struggle in STEM fields (and vice versa). They may have chosen their major or their profession based on this, but I would hardly think that’s all that went into choosing their major or profession. Personally, I became a journalism major because writing is my passion and I enjoy telling stories. I didn’t become an engineer because that’s not where my passion lies. My intelligence or my ability to do math did not factor into this decision.

It’s just as difficult to study Liberal Arts as it is STEM fields. I pull just as many all-nighters as my science, math or computer inclined peers. Instead of memorizing equations, I memorize AP Style rules. Instead of writing lab reports, I write research papers. Instead of writing code, I write articles (although, I do actually write code as well). People can struggle with concepts in Liberal Arts just like they can with concepts in STEM fields. Being a physicist does not make you more intelligent than a journalist, it simply allows you to play to different strengths and passions.

By putting down Liberal Arts majors as easy, you may also be missing out on very important areas to grow. A report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) found that, “Whatever undergraduate major they may choose, students who pursue their major within the context of a broad liberal education substantially increase their likelihood of achieving long-term professional success.” At RIT, all majors are required to complete an immersion (our version of a concentration) in a Liberal Arts field because they found that the biggest complaints that they received from employers in STEM fields was a lack of ability by students to adequately express their ideas, write research proposals and think critically to solve problems. Likewise, Liberal Arts majors take classes in coding, mathematics and science. The world’s greatest minds frequently take the time to exercise both sides of their brain because they should not be mutually exclusive. A common example is Albert Einstein, who was an avid reader and poet as well as a scientist.

I’m a Liberal Arts major but that does not make me less brilliant than someone in a STEM field. Please, I beg of you, stop believing that this is so.

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