I came to UR wanting to do everything, like every other freshie, and learn a bit about every major. After talking to some upperclassmen and some new hallmates, I was surprised to hear all the scathing comments launched at fellow students.
Maybe I’m just an uncomfortable person who sees things in a more negative light, but I have had the displeasure of holding one or two conversations that ended awkwardly, with forced smiles and nodding.
“Psychology isn’t a major. BCS is a real major — why don’t you just change to that?” a friend’s boyfriend asked me sophomore year. I forced a grimace on my face and shrugged, making a joke about me being too lazy.
As I went on with my academic life here at UR, I began to hear more of these comments. Major X isn’t good enough, why not do Major Y? I would hear. But then, a week later, from another person, I would hear that Major Y is just a dummy version of Major Z. When would it stop?
Sitting in Gleason Library, I would hear some conversations floating around: “BCS isn’t a real major. It’s just neuroscience for people who can’t do science,” my friend muttered one day, recounting a discussion with one of his professors.
“Engineers are just number crunchers. There’s no skill there, anyway,” my embittered physics friend said.
I don’t consider myself a Renaissance woman, or anything even close to that. In fact, I’m pretty bad at most things I do. But I am a curious person. I am majoring in classics (“Oh… that’s so cool!” is the normal reaction I get because people don’t know how else to react) and I am studying clinical psychology. From a young age, my parents brought me up with a strong fascination for mathematics, astronomy — well, science in general. I love knowing how things work: from human behavior to how a machine functions.
Often I’ve thought about the reason for this dislike toward other majors and have tried to come up with my own theories. Ultimately, I think it all may stem from some self-justification. The misunderstood women’s studies major will speak badly of the neuroscience major and call him souless or just out for money to make herself feel better for picking such a niche field.
Likewise, the stressed out chemistry major will talk disparagingly of the English major to make the 24 credits of work she’s doing seem like it’s worth it.
I doubt that one major is more important than another; such a statement is too subjective. Isn’t the idea of importance, or what is decided to be important, all just a construct of whatever society says?
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to have lunches with professors in settings not organized by any clubs or departments and I remember one professor discussing a shift in societal values. In the past, those who could afford to do so studied the humanities. Those in the field were considered noble, high, snotty. After the Industrial Revolution, more of an emphasis was placed on technology and more practical pursuits. I can’t say that the change was 100 percent bad or good, but once a door opens wider for one field, it closes another.
I’m not saying, however, that I have solutions or even the perfect view to “equalize” all the academic fields. I catch myself making mean comments about some majors too, and feel slightly ashamed. In the end, it’s all part of human nature to try and justify one’s own hard work by disparaging others and I don’t see the cycle ending anytime soon.
I just hope for some more understanding because, after all, aren’t we here to learn? Does it really matter how or what we learn?
Ng is a member of the class of 2014.