The Side-by-Side is a bi-semester pair of columns. Two students receive the same potentially divisive question and don’t get to see what the other has written before it is published.
This week’s question: The goal of a career in college is undoubtedly tied to one piece of paper: the degree that certifies the student. In this context, what impact should the humanities have on students, if any?
By: Michael Walters
Class. Eat. Study. Sleep. Find time for friends. This is the basic schematic that most of us as college students live by.
Our lives become so hectic that we resent anything that we don’t see as pertinent to what we want to do later on in life. We hear things like: “Why do I need to take philosophy courses? I’m never going to use this ever again.” Or, “What am I ever going to need Constantine for? I shouldn’t have to study this.”
As a pre-med, biology major, I myself have struggled with such questions. What do the humanities have to offer to my life? In trying to discover my own answer to this question, I have come to the conclusion that the humanities have value by giving meaning to what I study.
I understand the biological processes that occur for the generation and propagation of an action potential in a neuron. I can calculate the frequency of specific alleles in a given population. And I am able to isolate, excise and transplant genes between organisms. This is all useful information, but without the humanities that’s all it is — just information. The humanities allow us to take the knowledge we possess, in whatever field it may be, and transform it into something greater.
By taking time to engage in studies in the humanities, we are able to come to a deeper understanding or appreciation of the many different aspects of human nature such as our emotional, spiritual and mental states of being.
No math course can explain to you why you feel pain at the sight of a starving child. No business course can help you grasp your place in the world. And no science course can tell you what you should and should not do.
Only the humanities can offer such unique insights and therein lies its true value. If nothing else, the humanities help to make the student cognizant of his or her place in the world in relation to other people. They make the students aware that there is a larger picture their specific studies fit into and that they have an obligation to take that knowledge and use it to benefit those around them.
That way, knowledge of the biochemical processes of action potentials evolves into a means of developing treatments to fix those processes when they go wrong. Being able to calculate the frequency of alleles in a population becomes a way of trying to reduce hereditary diseases. And the ability to transfer genes between organisms allows one to introduce new and beneficial traits into a genome.
Overall, what we study guides what we do with our lives, but the humanities guide how and why we do it.
Michael Walters is a senior biology major from Columbus, Ohio, with chemistry, theology and peace studeis minors.