Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The debate between STEM and humanities must end

Instead of choosing a side, integrating both ultimately provides greater insight and a deeper connection of the fields

I’m sure most people have heard some variation of “I should’ve majored in the humanities,” or “Why on Earth do I have to take English 112?” at least once at the University of Massachusetts. Often thrown around by overworked STEM students, it’s not only surprising how normalized this phrase has become, but how casually the humanities are degraded on a day-to-day basis. As an engineering student, the constant devaluing of the humanities is a biased belief that inhibits the exploration and development of interdisciplinary fields between STEM and the humanities.

The belief that STEM is greater than humanities disregards the extensive history of humanities and the skills that they provide, while also denying the very foundations on which societies are founded. The humanities, aside from the skills they emphasize – communication and critical and analytical thinking – also hold the power of uncertainty.

In a STEM-dominated society, answers to questions are straightforward and hold little room for disagreement. Equations have a set answer, and calculations are meant to have only one answer. However, humanities act to subvert the things we believe to be concrete in our society. Politics, sociology and philosophy all stem from questioning an institution, form of government or even society itself. It stands as a counter to the certainty that STEM brings. The abstract nature of humanities stands to remind us to question what we take for granted, encouraging individuals to challenge the status quo and explore the assumptions that our society lies upon.

The perceived division between the STEM and humanities is further widened in college. Although many majors combine both fields, students often feel pressured to decide between one or the other. Exclusively favoring one side leads to an imbalance in important life skills that both fields emphasize. For instance, an engineer can have the technical abilities to design exceptional products, but without at least background knowledge in ethics and communications, they may struggle against their competitors who have the skills to present and showcase their ideas.

Scientific advancements made in STEM cannot be achieved without the influence of the humanities, embedded in the framework of our societies. Law, politics and jurisprudence all provide the basis on which STEM can flourish and grow. From ancient times, the Sumerians developed a legal system that would ultimately serve as the foundation of future civilizations. The Code of Hammurabi emphasized fair and impartial justice, complete with a panel of judges, a scribe and witnesses, which is still evident in legal systems all around the world today. Medicine, typically thought to be focused on technology and research, has its roots in the humanities via the Hippocratic Oath. STEM can pave the way for technological development, but the legality and ethics of these advancements requires the influence and knowledge of the humanities.

In a world that increasingly prioritizes STEM subjects over the humanities, it’s easy to see a false dichotomy between the two fields that is preventing cross-disciplinary exploration. However, it’s exactly the interdisciplinary nature of the fields that leads to progress. Looking closely into the innovation that flourished from the intersection of STEM and the humanities, it’s clear that those who disregarded the divide were the ones able to tackle the complexities of our modern world. While it may be easy to dismiss Chem 101 or English 112 as useless prerequisites, they serve as opportunities for students to expand their perspectives and bridge the two fields, allowing for mutual growth and the future betterment of society.

Kai Musick can be reached at [email protected].

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