Humanities forum called forTo the Editor:
When I was a freshman I met my first writing major at MIT and I noticed something odd in my attitude. I thought he had made some sort of mistake. When he told me that he actually knew someone who had come to MIT to major in writing, I was even more amazed. Even after the explanation that the writing applicant had wanted a good science background and liked MIT, I thought "what a poor sod."
Two years later, I was talking to some first-year students in my German class. When I told them I was taking only "humanities" classes that term they were shocked. One even explained to me that I had come to the wrong school. Another student later asked me if I was fulfilling requirements?
The question is why do people feel that studying humanities is not a good reason to be at MIT? The typical answer from people at home, people at other colleges, MIT students, MIT faculty and some advisors (!) is that MIT is an institute of technology and people know of its scientific and engineering emphasis before they arrive here.
What happens when a student comes to MIT thinking that she or he wants to be an engineer and then decides that she or he doesn't want this? Should the student transfer?
I want to point out that there are people at MIT interested in music, writing, economics, political science, linguistics, philosophy, urban studies, visual arts, etc. The attitude that those kind of people don't belong here must change to meet this fact. Students need to feel better about and more comfortable with studying humanities at MIT. Poetry profs need to stop feeling compelled to say, "look at writing your poem the way you do a problem set."
One way to deal with this discrimination is to change the policies and curriculum at MIT. There are committees looking into such changes. Even though any changes that the ad hoc Committee on Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences decide upon will occur far down the road, the entire school is affected just by the fact that the issue is receiving so much attention.
A second way to promote greater enthusiasm for the "humanities" is to generate the excitement from within the student body. I don't mean we should manufacture humanities psyche, but rather collect all the individual blocks of enthusiasm and build a self-supporting structure. I propose that students and faculty members who feel their interest for the liberal arts impinged upon should gather together, meet other people who feel similarly, talk and share views and experiences. I think students, particularly at MIT, need to be told, by their peers and professors that what they are interested in is important be it literature, history, economics, anything.
I don't want to create a division or imply that science and engineering aren't important. I feel, however, that at MIT (and in the world) students get positive feedback for studying in these fields. How many people, for instance, are questioned about the practicality of an engineering degree?
So, I am calling for a Forum on the Appreciation of Humanities to meet on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in room 4-149 at 7 pm. Everyone in the MIT community, including engineering and science students, faculty members, students in HASS and first-year students, is invited to attend and informally discuss the appreciation of humanities at MIT. The only goal we have for now is for people to share experiences and realize that there is a community within MIT that is supportive of humanities. Who knows, maybe we'll discover that Humanities doesn't need to sit behind engineering and science. My hope is that someday humanities at MIT will sit beside engineering and science and perhaps get to drive every now and then.
Philip Koebel '87->