STEM vs. Humanities: Liberal Arts Left Behind

In 2016, 57 percent of the UC San Diego undergraduates enrolled were majoring in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics field with 25 percent of freshmen declaring Biology. By October, there were only 268 Literature majors, compared to nearly 2,000 Computer Science and Engineering. These numbers don’t account for undeclared students who may switch into those majors or any of the math-and-science heavy social sciences such as Economics. This is a science school and it has the numbers — and the corporate research funding — to prove it. But a majority does not a whole make. In this rosy-colored picture of chemistry labs and pre-med symposiums, some of us have fallen through the cracks. Although STEM elitism is a pervasive force in the current technology boom, non-STEM UCSD students, by virtue of attending this university, are sometimes facing disproportionate challenges and pressures that come from the aforementioned elitism and definitive lack of representation and resources. College is hard enough without having to jump through hoops to be heard.

Unfortunately no amount of trivia night mixers can change the second-class status of the humanities and social sciences in academic conversations. There is a fundamental sense of superiority that STEM majors feel entitled to by sheer virtue of studying a scientific discipline. They say that their classes are just so much harder, that they’re so much more of a challenge than the humanities and, because they are able to overcome them, that they simply must be smarter. This is a sentiment echoed across UCSD, the humanities and social sciences seen as just a punchline in memes and jokes both online and in the flesh. Perhaps it stems from the promise of a job market with high starting salaries and Palo Alto corner offices, as opposed to the “starving” humanities majors who are supposedly graduating and then filing rank into barista training at Starbucks.

In some regards, these assertions are not wrong. STEM classes are extremely challenging, particularly on this campus. The job market does favor STEM majors, and there are plenty of horror stories about the fate that befalls humanities and social science majors upon graduation. But this doesn’t give them the right to act as though the Lord came down from the high heavens and marked them with a pi sign on their forehead, anointing them as the sole heirs to human knowledge. Non-STEM subjects might not always have precise right and wrong answers, but there is nuance and skill that go into careers in those fields and it is unfair to write them off simply because a lot of it is subjective work.

The STEM population on this campus carry with them this elitism, and the humanities and social sciences people here do little to convince them otherwise. The lack of a community for non-STEM majors can be seen very clearly in the lack of student organizations on campus aimed toward the expression of such skills/talents. Not only is there a deficiency of such clubs, those that do exist are often underpublicized. This is never more evident than when looking at the bulletin boards on campus that are filled with offers to be in scientific studies and reminders about a pre-med society meeting. The arts and humanities clubs are partially at fault for this due to their underwhelming publicity, but it is hard to publicize something that is so heavily stigmatized. The vast amount of science societies is also probably a deterrent to the creation of new non-STEM clubs because it can make it seem as though there is no one who could want those clubs. It can be very isolating to be in college, and without organizations to socialize and create a sense of community, it becomes that much harder to stay motivated and find stability. Furthermore, as everyone loves to remind humanities and social science majors, the job market is not kind to them and it is even harder to enter it without extracurriculars that in some manner demonstrate skills and leadership positions; extracurriculars that, due to a lack of exposure, people might not have a chance to experience.

This problem with the job market goes even further to the lack of internships that exist for non-STEM majors and the hassle that it is to find and apply to them. STEM majors might argue that anything they ever apply for is heavily impacted and that their internships are hard to get, but at the very least those opportunities are conspicuous and numerous. Humanities and social science internships are hard to come by: They are rarely on campus and are usually advertised by word of mouth. If you don’t happen to have a certain professor or catch up to the rumor mill, you probably won’t find out about it. Not to mention that there is rarely a focus on the specific subject area people wish to be involved in, so one has to take whatever internship is closest to their professional aspirations.

Non-STEM majors who chose UCSD knew that they were going to a science school, and so there is something left to be said for why they shouldn’t complain. The fact of the matter however is that this institution offers a lot of non-technical degrees, and by doing so it puts out a clear message — that humanities and social sciences are welcome here. 43 percent of the students were sent that message, but there is uncertainty as to how many can truly say they feel that that promise was delivered.

One thought on “STEM vs. Humanities: Liberal Arts Left Behind

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *