In the Defense of Liberal Arts

By Grace Wydeven

When I tell people I’m an English major I am usually met with snide remarks and/or sarcastic grins. “One of those huh?” they’ll chuckle. People peg me as the Anastasia Steele type (and trust me when I say nothing is more sickening to me) : that girl who will undoubtedly need a strong powerful man to support her while she sits at home reading books and pouring over flowery journals and 19th century novels.

I bring up this stereotype not in an attempt to offend, but rather to defend all of the women out there with a predilection for the liberal arts: you are not alone, and furthermore, you are not wrong in your choice.

On a college campus it seems like if you aren’t pre-med, you better be studying business, and if you aren’t in either of those you should probably look into Economics. “Liberal arts” comes across as impractical and frivolous, and in the past I often found myself dodging the “major” question and hiding behind the ever-ambiguous “undeclared.” But now I refuse to feel ashamed or stupid for pursuing my passion. Not only is my choice in major legitimate, it will also teach me more than a few practical skills for life after Georgetown.

I like to think that novels are blueprints for different ways of living. Holden Caulfield will show you what its like to live among phonies and want nothing more than to escape that very world. The tragic life of Tess of the D’Ubervilles is an example of what happens when a woman struggles to speak up for herself.  

If the novels themselves are blueprints than the authors are like witty, brilliant engineers. In the words of David Lipsky on David Foster Wallace, “To read you is in a way, to know you.” These brilliant artists manage to impart incredible wisdom in stacks of bound paper, diamonds in the rough that readers have access to whenever they want them. Between the writing itself and uncanny insight into the interworking of the human condition, novelists teach us more about life and how to go about living it than most textbooks ever could.   

I say all of this not in an attempt to discredit other fields of study. On the contrary I believe that a variety of knowledge and understanding is incredibly important. I also believe, however, that all of those diverse fields of study should be given validity. My English studies are as legitimate as my peers’ work in their respective fields. As they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s definitely more than one subject to study in college.

Leaders come in many forms. Like protagonists in novels, some are quiet and kind, others are confident and assertive. Some lead with their actions, others with their words, and still others with both. No matter how they do it, no two leaders are exactly the same, though the effect is, in itself, similar. While I might not ace Accounting, I know that by the time I graduate from Georgetown I will have plenty of leadership skills that will translate well in the workplace I choose. My liberal arts education will not only teach me to think critically, but also humanly.  

In the millennial age of booming technological advances, convenience has gone from a luxury to an expectation. We type our apologies and tap twice to show our affection. The human aspects of our generation seem to be losing out to the virtual ones. The days of face-to-face conversation and considerate rhetoric have been replaced with hurried texts and lengthy online comments. Studying English gives me the opportunity to right these millennial wrongs, to practice discussion, interpretation, speaking, reading, and writing. They’re seemingly basic skills that play a crucial role in a world where they are too often overlooked.

So tease me all you want, but I am proud to say that I am pursuing an undergraduate degree in English. No bells or whistles, just English. And if you ask me, that’s more than enough.