There exists a terrible misconception that UR’s hardest major has something to do with math, electricity, or funny white coats. This could not be farther from the truth. A Left-Brain paradise, UR has one of the easiest STEM programs in the nation. Here, safe from the looming threats of brunch book clubs, bisexuality, and black-out poetry, engineers are free to frolic. Between four-credit courses, six-hour labs, and innumerable weekly workshops, STEM majors are protected from dangerous propositions of underage drinking, recreational drug use, and ungraded fun. Instead, as God intended, they can relish quiet nights in the company of only their laptop and TI-84 calculator. No, these students do not suffer in heaven. The dark horses, the Jean d’Arcs, the Promethean victims are none other than the English majors.
Ridiculed, snubbed, and deprived of both culture and communal pretension, UR humanities students walk a lonely road. Fending off the hordes clamoring for WRTG 105 help and Gleason peer pressure, the English major stands defiant. There is a quiet grace to their stubbornness, a respectability in their refusal to learn the names of academic buildings, and a shameful inadequacy when confronted with their commitment to, against all odds, getting trashed four times a week. How do they do it? How can they balance naps in the Art and Music Library, outfits absent of the descriptor “sweat,” and free-thinking? Blissfully engaged in UR’s Sisyphean midterm cycle, many well-intentioned math majors will never comprehend the tenacity and sacrifice necessary to exist amongst their ranks.
Professors try to help, assigning upwards of 80 pages of reading a class, but it’s but a drop in the bucket. A temporary plaster over a systemic plight. None of us have the power to make Rochester a thriving metropolis replete with a post-gender art scene; however, we do have control over the propagation of false information. When well-meaning students overly praise physics majors for doing their jobs, they contribute to the baseless shaming of our strongest soldiers. Next time you have a chem lab due or turn in a WebWork with a 50%, take a moment to check your privilege. Buy your local English major a latte. Allow them to explain the intricacies of expatriate post-war disillusionment in 1930s novels. Offer to buy them a new pack of menthols. Memorize a few lines of Bukowski and recite them every time media literacy becomes necessary to follow the conversation. It’s the little things that make them feel loved.
My dear STEM majors, perhaps I’ve been dismissive of your hardships, but I’m not unsympathetic! I know it can be hard to be bragged about at dinner parties or to know you are going directly into the workforce, but there are so many other perks! You get problem sets, late nights in Gleason, and crying in front of your TA! You get to take calculus exams on Christmas! Who wouldn’t want a rigid, pre-planned, inflexible undergraduate experience?
English majors spend thousands of dollars and immeasurable, precious hours dissecting, analyzing, and replicating the human experience. They spend their evenings engaged in a type of time travel: 1,200 words on the death of the old world due at midnight, seven chapters on the birth of a new one due the next day. In stolen moments they scribble short stories about forests onto paper that remembers what it means to be a tree. They learn, create, hope, grieve, and consume because they have to. Because they are uniquely cursed with curiosity that is undaunted by fear, uncrippled by pride, and unmoving in the face of all reason. Because that curious spark threatens flame if abandoned.
They have grown up in the same world as the STEM majors, walked alongside them, and listened attentively to the lectures, the practicalities, and the warnings of failure. They have had to look themselves in the mirror and decide which scared them more: the world or that little spark. And, poets that they are, they held with those who favored fire. Landing them here, working their asses off to be unemployed.
So let’s give ‘em some more credit, yeah?