The religious studies (RELS) and philosophy departments hosted a joint talk at 1 p.m. April 19 in the Salisbury Room to discuss the usefulness of a degree in the humanities and how to explain its value to employers, parents and peers. Organized by resident advisors (RA) Pai Miller (sophomore) and Alayna Schwartz (sophomore), the talk featured Professor Kristi Upson-Saia of RELS and Professor Clair Morrissey of philosophy. According to Miller, approximately 15 students attended.
Miller and Schwartz planned the event as part of their RA requirements. Both had taken a class with Upson-Saia before and wanted to make sure she was involved in the event. They saw an opportunity to introduce students to departments that they feel are not typically advertised to first years as popular majors at Occidental.
“We planned the event because we are both first-year RAs, so we deal with a lot of first-year experiences, and RELS and philosophy are hidden gems at Oxy. Not a lot of people know what [the majors are] about, or why they’re important,” Schwartz said.
The event functioned as a meet and greet for students within the RELS and philosophy departments. As an RA, Miller felt a responsibility to advertise the major.
“It’s [upsetting] to see that some majors [at Occidental] are more celebrated than other majors … I’m really bummed thinking about the fact that I could have missed RELS at Occidental,” Miller said.
Upson-Saia said there has been a critique of humanities and the supposed usefulness of a liberal arts degree since the 2008 recession. Before the recession, RELS typically had about 20 majors a year and, during the recession, that number hovered around 10, according to Upson-Saia. Now, almost a decade later, the numbers are starting to surge again — there are currently 16 declared RELS majors.
“People these days are bombarded with this message that ‘you need to get a pre-professional degree,’ when in fact, a lot of the studies on what employers want, what grad schools want and how well students do after college actually tip towards humanists doing better,” Upson-Saia said.
The RELS and philosophy departments overlap in terms of content and post-graduation career paths, according to Upson-Saia. Philosophy, Morrissey said, requires students to think critically about arguments presented to them, and once they have mastered critical thinking about external sources, form their own arguments.
“We teach you to take responsibility for your beliefs,” Morrissey said.
RELS, according to Upson-Saia, teaches students how to understand other cultures, decentering their personal judgments and opinions from the field of study. She said it requires students to put themselves aside and consider how other people interpret the world.
“I think studying the humanities is important because it teaches you how to actually process the information you read,” Varty Yahijan (sophomore) said. “When you’re studying the history of an event, reading about the theories and different perspectives, you get the bigger picture.”