The STEM vs. Humanities Discourse in South-Asian Cultures

The stigma around Humanities majors in South-Asian cultures has reached a new level of intolerance. 

Over the past decade, more and more students have been encouraged to pursue their education in STEM-related fields. STEM fields are generally believed to be much more valuable compared to the liberal arts and there’s this false perception that every person who studies it is guaranteed a high paying job.

The level of pressure and stress on South-Asian students to pursue STEM-related fields doesn’t go unnoticed. Embedded deep into our culture, brown people hold the Sciences in a much higher regard and continue to degrade those who pursue the Arts.

I was a Biology student for my O-Levels and then pursued it well into my higher education before switching to the Humanities. I’ve never looked back and never regretted my choice — in fact, it feels like it’s one of the few decisions in my life I’m firmly proud of.

I’ve had all kinds of reactions when I’ve told people I study the Arts — there’s the polite indifference, the aunty who looks mildly disappointed, the teacher who tells you it’s not too late to study Science again, and the uncle who says the Arts has always been a good field for women.

South-Asian students who want to pursue the Arts are discouraged either from their parents or some distant relative who doesn’t know know how to mind their own business. “But how are you going to feed yourself?” They ask in over-exaggerated horror. “It’s a waste of time!” or “It’s good for a woman, your husband will take care of you!” The Arts are, undoubtedly, perceived to be less valuable; a glorious way of wasting money with less economic stability in the future.

Many believe the Arts have little to no positive contribution towards society, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Humanities culture a sense of belonging, they allow ample space to think about the tangled mess that is the human civilization; allowing us to unravel it all strand by strand and understand just why we are the way that we are.  Without the Arts, without the existence of philosophers, art, and literature, without evidence of what it is to be truly human, where would the human race even be?

With the rise of social media, the discourse over which field is necessary and better has only inflated in size. What’s important is how the Sciences and the Arts cannot exist without each other — they are not polar opposites but in fact, mutually benefit each other. A collaboration between both fields can create more creative responses towards questions neither of us can tackle. Things have to be imagined before they are discovered.

Without STEM, we wouldn’t have medicine or technology to create or destroy, and without Humanities, the human race would never have theorists or people to think. And maybe you’re pausing to ask yourself right now — who cares if we don’t have thinkers? Who cares if we don’t have people to put out theories? Let me put it this way, a man could never build a bridge without envisioning what it looks like.

There is also a perceived bias towards the Humanities because most people believe that our workload is far more inferior and that we spend most of our days lazing in the sun and pondering our place in the universe. Humanities majors have a general bias because people believe we do not have to work just as hard or go out as more or spend time doing “heavy work” — in short, the Humanities are perceived to be something more “feminine” and consequently, something less important.  

The STEM fields have no room for nonsense, everything is cut and right. The Humanities allow ample space to think and no answer is wrong. STEM fields are predominantly composed of males and so is classified as something far more superior.

In the end, both fields cannot exist without each other. The existence of STEM subjects can be credited to the Humanities and vice versa. They are two halves of one whole and to put down the other is to choose not to see the bigger picture.