Welcome fellow life-livers, to another episode of “My trans-continental adventures” with me, your host, Miss. Catherine “Why do flight attendants think it’s okay to pick up and cradle every baby they see” Götze.

Time for some updates.

(1)

ONE. As you may have guessed, I’m currently flying (in a plane) back home to the good ol’ Farm. Some of you were wondering why in my semi-recent Instagram post I said I needed a break from Stanford. The truth is, the past quarter was the unfortunate continuation of a decently rough year for me. Fall quarter I struggled with not having the same awesome sense of community I felt in Larkin my freshman year. Winter quarter, I rode the struggle bus right into major town, where I spent ten straight weeks trying to convince myself that I was a good fit for my ex-prospective major, Symbolic Systems.

The truth is, the past quarter was the unfortunate continuation of a decently rough year for me.

I took 3 classes in the SymSys core last quarter, one of which was CS 103. I ended up withdrawing from that course Thursday of Week 8 (a day before the deadline), causing me to feel an odd mix of “Oh God, I’m a failure,” “Oh God, I’m letting everyone down,” and “GUUUUUUHHHHHHH” <–(That’s the sound of me coming up for air after being pummeled by a healthy series of some gnarly ass six foot waves.)

Despite what others may say, I know that that “W” on my transcript stands for wisdom. SymSys would not have been a good fit for me. Period. I don’t wanna HEAR IT from the people who think there’s enough prestige in buckling down and taking it up the ass from a sexy major to just let her do it to you up the butt—the people who say “Ohhh but you can still do SymSys and only take two CS classes! If you don’t vibe with CS just do this specific track… yada yada yada blah blah blah!” Eat my shorts. I don’t like that major, and I sure as hell don’t need it to make something of myself one day. So as far as you’re concerned (which is apparently a lot sum,) that W stands for “walk away.”

(2)

TWO. Spending spring break at home was blissfully rejuvenating. Not because I spent hours at the spa—though I did take the time to get my brows fleek’d and my nails did (because was it really spring break if you didn’t???)—no, #sb2k16 was simply the perfect amount of time I needed to get the R&R I needed after a trying winter quarter. (See ONE.)

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La Tía y yo hace … uy … casi 4 años :0

On my first day back, I went to visit an old Spanish teacher/mentor/adopted tía at my old high school. I kinda sorta took almost every language that was offered at my high school at one point or another during my pre-collegiate academic career, so I ended up seeing a lot of teachers I either had at one point or had gotten to know throughout my time at BHS.

It felt good—wholly and unconditionally good—to find myself sitting around the lunch table in the Foreign Language Department break room surrounded by so many people who had helped nurture my passion for language as a teenager, a passion that undoubtedly elevated me in the eyes of college Admissions Officers at one point in my life. As we reminisced about how I dropped AP science my senior year to take first-year Chinese, I was reminded that these phenomenal educators spent years helping me develop my passion and ENCOURAGING me to break free from the status quo. They instilled in me the intellectual vitality that still fuels my desire to learn all there is to know about this beautifully complicated world not but two short years ago. And yet somehow, I lost sight of that at Stanford.

I lost the intellectual vitality that got me into Stanford because of Stanford. Ironic, isn’t it?

This year, when the pressure to choose a major came on thick like the way Gus puts nutella on toast (like would you like some bread with your chocolate?), I totally and completely lost sight of why I even go to school. I know that the deep down truth is that I’m here for the love of learning. And I’m here because I want to expand my mind into the realms that intrigue me, not the ones that I swore I’d never revisit so long as I shall live. (I’m looking at you, calculus.) I’m here because I love media and communication and public speaking and culture and language! So why in the world was I looking at a major like SymSys for so long?

The truth is, Dear Reader—and they don’t tell you this in the brochures— the academic culture at Stanford University is hostile to the humanities.

The academic culture at Stanford University is hostile to the humanities.

THERE. I SAID IT. STANNY ISN’T PERFECT.

There are quantitative imbalances between the STEM- and humanities-driven cultures at this school—just look at the number of undergraduates majoring in computer science compared to the largest humanities major, or a list of the top 5 most popular majors at Stanford. But as a student living and breathing in the imbalanced environment every single day, it often feels like the qualitative differences are the more detrimental.

When I walk through the Starbucks in Tresidder Student Union, I see that every person sitting at the bar is writing code. When I bike past students walking on their way to class, I hear them bonding over their mutual anxiety for whatever “impossible” STEM class is all the rave this particular quarter. You never hear two people bonding over their English class, because if two people were in the same English class their first reaction would probably be “YOU TAKE ENGLISH TOO?!” I mean seriously, we use words like “techy” and “fuzzy” to compare math-driven, technical studies to studies based in the humanities and social sciences. Must we delve into the problematic nature of calling somebody’s area of study f*cking fuzzy or can we just agree that it’s a disgustingly patronizing and supercilious term? Yes? Thanks.

My passions for the humanities and social sciences are invalidated with every breath I take on this campus. I’m living in a place where my own peers can’t help but look down on me and see me as inferior.

So I was looking at SymSys because I felt—er, feel, like my passions for the humanities and social sciences are invalidated with every breath I take on this campus. Every time I go to get a coffee or bike to class, let alone tell somebody my major, I’m reminded that I’m living in a place where my own peers can’t help but look down on me and see me as inferior. That is a really sucky feeling. It is going to take a lot of self-confidence to overcome this reality, Dear Reader, and I’m a confident person, but maybe not that confident—yet. I’m working on it, and heading back to BHS to walk the halls of my old stomping ground was the first step in the right direction.

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After I met with my old teachers, I walked up and down the quiet, empty Saturday hallways. For the first time in two whole years, I breathed in the air of a place that encourages the pursuit of all intellectual passions, no matter what they may be. A place where Broadway stars in the making are looked upon just as highly as nationally-ranking mathematicians. A place where students are able to be curious and try new things and reject the status quo if that’s what their heart and mind desire. (And I took all this for granted for the four years of my life I got to spend there.)

I peered into the classrooms where I had all my favorite classes—AP Rhetorical Analysis, where Mr. Sanders taught me how sculpting the perfect argument to convey precisely what I want to say will help me later break down others’ arguments and see what they really mean; AP Religious Quest, where Ms. Kramer taught me that every character in every acclaimed novel has desires, strengths, and weaknesses just like you and me (how else would I have ever gotten through Moby Dick?); Honors Global Studies, where Mr. Wire taught me that the key to learning is making an emotional connection to the material… These courses were all founded in the humanities, and they all accelerated my growth as an intellectual thinker and as a person more than any other class I had ever taken in high school. No coding necessary.

(3)

THREE. So here we are at the beginning of Spring Quarter of my Sophomore year, and I have a choice to make, DR. I can choose to continue taking STEM-y courses like CS 103 because it’s ~*prestigious*~ and at least then people won’t call me the f-word, or I can look inside myself and think about how excited I feel when the prof says our final assignment is a 15-page rhetorical analysis on the cross-cultural topic of our choice. (LIKE ZOMG BUTTERFLIES.) You may find it rather full-circular that my current courseload reflects my decision to go with the latter. 🙂 I hope this feeling lasts…


 

Welp, this didn’t end up being a very updatey post at all. But that’s okay. I wanted to write about this at some point but didn’t really know how to start, so this ended up working out quite well.

I hope you got something out of this, DR. If you did, feel free to spread the CiC love/tell me your thoughts. As always, I’m all ears. (Twitter, email, anonymous). If you didn’t, I hope you’ve at least enjoyed seeing the world from my point of view while perhaps assessing my strengths and weaknesses as you see them. (Though despite what Ms. Kramer might say, I can assure you I’m much realer than Ishmael. 😉 )

With wisdom,

Cath

OH– And Happy Easter 🐰

Written by Catherine Goetze

Catherine Goetze www.cathincollege.com Find me on social media! Facebook: www.facebook.com/cathincollege Twitter: @catherinegoetze Instagram: @catherinegoetze SnapChat: @catherinegoetze Contact me: cathincollege@gmail.com

31 comments

  1. I think it would be a crying shame if you don’t follow your heart! You are one hell of a gifted writer and if that gift got buried in some career in SymSys or any other STEM avenue when your passions are elsewhere it would be criminal.

    S. MBA, GSB “17

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  2. I look down on people that see one major as “superior” than another. It is not the major that is important but what you plan on doing/contributing to that major that is important.

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  3. Hey Cath, as you mentioned ‘…Honors Global Studies, where Mr. Wire taught me that the key to learning is making an emotional connection to the material…’ Could you please explain it more precisely the emotional connection? How does it help with learning? Thank you very much.

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  4. I am really looking forward to applying to (and hopefully attending) Stanford. Would you still consider Stanford as great of a school for someone potentially majoring in a humanities area rather than STEM?

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  5. Hey Cath!

    I’m from Indonesia and here the pressure to take STEM courses is a lot too, and it even begun in high school where we had to choose what we want to major in (most schools only provide science or social, but others also provide languages). When I first picked social studies, my friends along with my teachers were shocked because I could do science, but I didn’t want to. That made me a bit hesitant in my choice but guess what? I flourished. I didn’t think I could if I ended up majoring in science. Now I’m in my sophomore year of uni (or college) and I’m majoring in English Language Teaching, which people look down on. They look down on the majors in our Faculty of Education (we have ELT and Math Education), which is SO wrong because we are their children’s future teachers. At first I was so down and begin to doubt myself, because everyone was majoring in business and STEM majors and I’m like, “what am I doing?” But you know what, I have learnt to own it and I’m now confident in answering people when they ask what I’m majoring in, even though I eventually have to explain what it’s all about.

    Thank you for posting this, it is good to hear someone is experiencing (or at least experienced) the same thing as I did and pulled through it.

    Love,
    Syifa

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  6. I loved this post, and how candid you are about the intellectual culture there. I truly appreciate it. I’m a new subscriber to your channel and blog, and the more I discover, the more I love you(r content). 100% major inspiration. I have three questions:

    a. Why is your major Science, Technology and Society? Doesn’t that play into this toxic culture of glorifying STEM over the humanities, or do I misunderstand the major?

    b. Why did you choose Symbolic Systems at all?

    c. Like you, I love the humanities with all my heart. I am thinking of studying political science or communications; should I not apply to Stanford because of the environment?

    Thank you so much! I look forward to hearing from you!

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  7. Hey Cath!
    An Aussie who stumbled across your blog here :). I related to this post so, so much! I had a very similar experience with being passionate about the humanities (history, languages and sociology specifically). However, here in Australia you must decide what to study to apply for university and there are different admission requirements for different degrees (all based on a few final exams in your last year of highschool). Long story short, I realised that the feeling of dread and anxiety at having to write a science report was not a good sign! Like you, I reflected on how excited I feel when discussing and writing about issues within humanities subjects and decided that I would follow my passions. Nevertheless many people make jokes about ‘fuzzy’ humanities degrees where all you do is discuss, rather than look at hard data. And like you, I have had to decide to ignore this and follow what I am passionate about.

    Just thought you might be interested in hearing an international perspective! As cliché as it is-keep doing what you love! And please keep writing this blog 🙂 I love reading about other people’s experiences as they work out this adult and study thing!

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  8. The simple fact is that STEM courses are generally harder than the Arts & Humanities. The comparison ends here. To use this however to relegate A&H students to an inferior position is completely misguided.

    The difficulty of a discipline is not a measure of intellectual capacity (IQ or whatever). Simply put, maths may be harder but that does not mean communications students are less intelligent.

    With love from the Philippines,

    John

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    1. “The simple fact is that STEM courses are generally harder than the Arts & Humanities.”

      False.

      STEM, Arts, and Humanities represent three radically different modes of thought. As an inherently “techy” person, my hardest class here at Stanford is currently PWR 2 (the second required writing course), and that’s in comparison with CS 106B (intro Comp Sci class) and EE 101A (second-year electrical engineering).

      And then again, I’m sure there are droves of humanists who would disagree with me — those people who would rather write an essay than do a problem set. (?!?)

      The point is, for each individual, certain modes of thought come more naturally than others. We tend to like doing what we believe we’re good at, and the more we do something, the better we get at it. That’s what makes the difference between a theoretical physicist, an ethnographer, and a jazz saxophonist.

      — A techy with fuzzy sympathies

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  9. Came upon this post after watching your newest video. Thanks for sharing. I withdrew from my classes in the spring of my junior year, after having worked really hard just to get into that competitive major, and realized it wasn’t what i wanted to do. my self-confidence plummeted afterward, and was so glad that my family was there for me. There were at least six W’s on my transcript… they all stand for wisdom 🙂 very clever. I grew the most that year and became a wiser person. I am on the right path now 🙂 and you are too

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  10. Cath,
    Thank you so much for putting this into words! I just realised that I had been struggling with the same issue for a year without really realizing it. This issue deserves way more attention than it currently gets.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so glad I stumbled upon this post! I just committed to Stanford as a class of 2020 REA admit and I already feel like everyone I’ve talked to has an expectation that I’ll end up coding in Silicon Valley when I graduate. As much as I’ve excelled in math and science I’m not sure that it’s really my passion. History, English, language– those classes have had a more profound impact on my education thus far.
    I’m really hoping to keep an open mind as I enter my Freshman year and just take the path that actually feels like the best path, whatever that may be. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi, I’m a Stanford alum who majored in American Studies (c/o 2012 so not too long ago) and I can understand your sentiments! As someone who has many friends who majored in the hard sciences, it can seem like the humanities are not as valued (and statistics have shown a significant decrease in humanities majors in the last few years since CS became synonymous to Stanford). But it’s important to really consider your passions, what drives you day to day, and remember why you are there and what you want to contribute to the world. After working for a few years, my experience have shown me that the lessons (academic and otherwise) you learn from pursuing the humanities or taking humanities courses throughout your college years are irreplaceable and so valued in the workplace. If you ever feel like you’re lacking in the technical aspects, it’s a lot easier to pick up those skills on the fly and in a shorter period of time than say, to learn how to craft an insightful, moving argument that is both persuasive and succinct. Workplaces are much more willing to spend the time and money to train you in CS and other technical skills than they are to improve your writing, communication and people skills. Anyway, feel free to reach out of you ever want to talk through this!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m super conflicted about this. On the one hand, it’s super important for everyone to feel valued in their major and it’s hard for that to happen at Stanford sometimes. On the other, the pressure here to at least consider STEM fields (and, let’s be honest, computer science) was what brought me to a computer science major and through the core, and I am so incredibly glad it did. It sounds like you and I share a lot of interests, and right now as I pick out my CS coterm classes I’m so excited because I get to learn tons about languages (and so many other things) through the lens of computer science. This quarter I’m taking a CS class where the final project is a 15-20 page paper — on independent computational linguistics research.

    I guess what I’m saying is, the world today is structured such that programming is no longer just about making computers do cool things. In early CS classes it can sometimes feel that way, but the weird vibe here to pressure people into sticking with CS is precisely how I managed to end up now doing exactly what I always wanted to, without knowing I even needed to code to get there.

    And I agree, CS103 is a major struggle!

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    1. Hey Kelsey! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s awesome that you ended up loving CS. And you’re right, there are a ton of cool applications for everything a CS major learns in the real world, especially relating to linguistics. I just wish that that “weird pressure” you describe could be replaced with an open-minded attitude, and not just for CS, but for all majors. That way you still would have gotten to know (and fallen in love with) CS, but Joe Shmo from HumHo wouldn’t have felt unnecessary pressure to stick around when he didn’t fall in love with it too. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! They are super valuable.

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      1. Agreed with you Cath. I also think that it’s fine to explore your interests, and if you discover you love CS along the way, that’s totally fine. Good for you. I think this is more relevant to the many, many, people who feel pressure to like CS or pursue it because of weird external pressures from the Stanford community and such.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Well said! Choose the path that makes you happy. Success is not about money, fame, or prestige. Success is about getting out of bed everyday feeling positive about your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dear Reader– The pie chart in your link lists 29% for “Humanities AND sciences”, so that makes it impossible to determine what percentage is just plain old humanities… and I would argue that the term “soft science” is just as harmful as “fuzzy” :/

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