Featured Illustration: Nicolas Ogonosky
Whenever school budget cuts are proposed, an event that is becoming far too frequent, one of the first departments to be shut down is the humanities (and arts, but that’s a discussion for a different article).
Especially in recent years, many schools have drawn funding away from their arts and humanities programs in order to build new computer labs or expand their STEM-related programs. The idea that humanities classes are unimportant and useless in our society has become so normalized that the underfunding of these programs is probably not a shock at all — it might even be the expectation.
Given how much technology has advanced over the past ten years alone and how frequently we use it in our daily lives, there is no doubt that having a strong background in science and math provides significant advantages in finding stable, well-paying jobs in a rapidly evolving job market.
The additional appeal of pursuing careers in engineering, medicine, computer science, etc. is the potential to create and implement innovative technology that can create a positive impact on our society. However, the fact that most STEM majors come from a more socioeconomically privileged background means that there is a severe lack of diversity in STEM fields, resulting in a perpetual cycle of elitism and the dismissal of issues that primarily affect the socioeconomically disadvantaged.
The reason why so many STEM majors have the same privileged socioeconomic background is that there is a lack of opportunities for low-income students to take advanced math and science courses, meaning that they have less exposure to STEM education and are less likely to pursue STEM careers (as suggested by studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2017). Compound this with the fact that despite students of color making up the majority of the student population in 83 of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., more than 50% of them attend low-income schools in 80 of those 83 cities (as of 2016).
But what does this mean?
As a result of the structural racism that puts people of color at a significant socioeconomic and educational disadvantage, the majority of students that pursue STEM majors come from socioeconomically privileged and primarily white racial backgrounds.
This is a problem because, in order for the innovators of the future to adequately address and solve the world issues pertaining to their respective fields, they must understand the impact of those issues on people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. For students that are constantly surrounded by other people from the same demographic as them, it can be easy to distance themselves from the issues that affect different groups of people in our society.
By requiring humanities classes and re-emphasizing the importance of compassion and empathy in our education system, we can slowly break the cycle that perpetuates the reenforcement of structural racism and the elitism of STEM fields. A humanities education would enable doctors, engineers, software developers, etc. to develop and implement tools that could truly benefit our society by uplifting those that have been marginalized for far too long.
Until the privileged class makes an effort to understand and empathize with the less privileged in our society, we will never be able to resolve the issues that prevent people of color and people of lower-income backgrounds from being able to have a seat at the table — in STEM careers and in our society.