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The GW Hatchet

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Staff editorial: Humanities courses add value to our educations

Updated: Oct. 17, 2016 at 10:31 a.m.

Studying the liberal arts, especially humanities, is an often-questioned path to take during college. Students in these majors might be questioned on how they’ll find jobs, make money or learn key skills. But these courses add value to education, and officials should continue to encourage students to enroll in humanities courses.

Some undergraduate students already knew what fields they wanted to pursue when they came to GW. Others came here undecided and took various G-PAC courses to figure it out. Regardless of which path they are on, taking humanities courses expands students’ perspectives.

Getting an education is different than getting a degree. Degree programs give students the skills to succeed in particular careers or subject areas, but educations give students new perspectives and experiences. It makes sense that some students are averse to taking courses outside the subjects in which they are pursuing degrees, since they’re likely weaker or less interested in those areas. But the writing and critical thinking skills taught in humanities classes are valuable no matter what field students pursue.

There’s a stigma that studying the humanities doesn’t lead to a lucrative career. We go to an expensive university, and it’s easy to question what our investment is worth if students can’t graduate with a well-paying job lined up. If that is the question that officials want us to easily be able to answer, then it might make sense for the University to continue driving an internship and career-based marketing narrative. But for most of us, these four years will be the only time when our main focus is learning about the world and when we have the time to try new things.

Humanities courses encourage students to think differently and ponder real-world questions, and that’s just as valuable as gaining skills for employment. Sometimes, a well-rounded education means needing to feel a little uncomfortable. If we never get out of our comfort zones and expose ourselves to new ideas, we won’t grow as students and individuals.

The English department recently created a new minor for business school students. It’s an innovative venture to give students in a technical degree program a way to learn how to communicate, write and think creatively. Other departments at GW should take notice of the English department and the business school’s joint project, and students should seize opportunities to take classes outside of their comfort zones – especially in the humanities.

The English department has also increased outreach to attract students to their classes. Humanities programs tend to be smaller, and amid budget cuts, it seems these programs and departments are some of the first to lose faculty and resources. The English department’s step is proactive, and it’s exciting to see that other schools, like the business school, are helping emphasize the importance of humanities.

Any and every department, especially small departments, should find ways to market their courses. Many departments offer upper level courses in niche topics that could attract various students, but these need to be better promoted as students tend to gravitate towards the more recognizable introductory courses. Departments could also offer their own career fairs to show what students can do with those sorts of degrees.

Luckily, officials already recognize the importance of humanities. After all, every Columbian College of Arts and Sciences major has to take two humanities classes. And the School of Engineering and Applied Science students take two humanities courses, as well. But students have room for fall-through courses and can try to spend even more time in these sorts of classes.

Unfortunately, it seems that officials’ focus on humanities ends at the classroom door: Faculty members have criticized the presidential search committee for not having any humanities-centric representation. GW shouldn’t preach the importance of a humanities-based education at a liberal arts university if they don’t emphasize the importance to applicants for the University’s highest position. They have the opportunity to prove to presidential candidates that undergraduate students don’t just get degrees – they get educations.

We understand that the University can’t force students to take more humanities classes. It’s unreasonable to assume students in science programs want to spend a huge amount of time in an English class, or that English students want to take yet another math class. But other humanities departments should follow the English department and market themselves to different sorts of students. These departments might be surprised by how many of us added a major or minor because a humanities course forced us to change how we defined our educations.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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