Taekman: Stop the non-STEM stigma

Sarah Taekman, Staff Writer

There’s solidarity among students as we suffer packed lecture halls. Shared commiseration over tests and homework. Joint joy when we puzzle out a particularly rough topic.

But, like most clubs, there’s a “them” and an “us.” Being a STEM major is like being part of the biggest campus-wide club Case Western Reserve University has to offer.

With the majority of CWRU’s student body being in some sort of STEM major, it isn’t terribly surprising that there’s some laughter at the arts and humanities’ expense. I’ve heard more non-STEM jokes in the last six months here than in the past 18 years of my life. Some of my friends get asked why they’re even at CWRU if they’re not STEM. The fact of the matter is that non-STEM majors are drastically underrepresented within the student body. “CWRU student” almost automatically translates to “STEM student,” due to school reputation—as of Fall 2016, roughly three-fourths of CWRU undergraduate students said they planned on pursuing a major in a STEM field.

This isn’t to say that our student population isn’t artistic or creative at all, or that we don’t enjoy the arts or humanities—there are just very few people here that are trying to make a career of it. And that’s where judgement comes into play.

We’ve all done it at some point: We’ve looked at someone else and wondered what on earth they’re doing. Those clothes? That hobby? Majors are certainly no different, especially with current societal pressures favoring STEM majors and careers.

Our society tells us that non-STEM careers aren’t marketable in this day and age. Everything is science, engineering, math—anything else is irrelevant or unintelligent. Humanities and arts classes are easy. Non-STEM majors make less and resign themselves to lives of economic discomfort.

First and foremost: The liberal arts and humanities major employment rate is about the same as it is for STEM majors. Wages for arts and humanities majors are, on average, still comfortably middle class. Nor does majoring in something guarantee a job in that field—finding a job can take time, regardless of undergraduate major. The myth of STEMs lounging in wealth and non-STEMs living destitute existences after graduation is, for the most part, just that: A myth.  

Secondly: Hard is subjective. Learning anything requires attention, patience and thought. Not to mention that certain topics come easier to certain people. I could talk your ear off about the finer details of aerobic respiration—but ask me to analyze a Supreme Court case, talk about painting composition or perform a sonnet from memory and I would just stare. Intelligence is relative, and denoting certain majors as “smarter” than others is extremely close-minded.

Society needs more than just cold, hard science. While STEM focuses on a nonhuman-centric world, non-STEM takes us back to the direct reality we face every day: a human-dominated society. They familiarize us with our past and present, with our society and our nature. Art, history, books, news, theater—they introduce questions of the human condition, which is just as much of a mystery as the world around us. Why would we shame people for exploring that?

Lastly, and most importantly: What do you care? It’s not your life.

Non-STEMs are using their college years the way they’re supposed to: By studying things they’re actually interested in. What’s the point of all this tuition money if you’re not going to genuinely enjoy what you’re paying to learn? Where’s the appeal in preparing yourself for a theoretical job because everyone else told you to, even if that job brings you no joy?

It’s easy to judge people when they rebel against what we deem as normal. But when those critical thoughts bubble up, it’s time to step back and reevaluate what’s important: Are they happy?

If the answer is yes, take a step back. Breathe. And let them live their life, their way.

Sarah Taekman is a first-year student majoring in biology.