True Life: Being a Liberal Arts Major at a Polytechnic School

Coming to a polytechnic school I knew that being in liberal arts did not give me the most respected major. And I was right. I often hear comments about how my major is easier than someone else’s or that I am less smart (which often translates into being less than, in general). Engineering would have earned me more respect because they are more likely to make a lot of money. But my value as a human being doesn't come from my monetary value later in life, and others shouldn't perceive liberal arts majors ass less valuable just because they have chosen less lucrative fields. Most of the time I ignore it, especially when those same people need me to edit an essay because they don’t know basic rules of grammar or how to compose an argument. While student opinion is frustrating enough, what is even more upsetting is the universities disregard for the liberal arts and their importance.

In defense of a small part of the school, I will admit that I like my department. I am a fourth year English major, and while there are aspects of my major I would change, overall I enjoy it. The teachers are dedicated and easy to talk to and I love what I study. But the university’s disregard for my major puts a definite strain on the department and me as a student.

The limited funding leads to a limited number of options for classes, which is especially frustrating in a creative field. The small number of class options also leads to many of my English requirements doubling as GE classes. While this is beneficial for the university because it cuts down on funding, it lessens the value of my education by not challenging me to work at my full potential. It is easy to succeed in a classroom where I am the only person in my major, because no one challenges me or pushes me to be better.

The lack of a challenge insures that I and my fellow liberal arts students are not receiving the best education Cal Poly can provide. This inherently adds to the cycle of under funding for the liberal arts. By not providing us with the best education graduates are less likely to achieve high paying salaries which would allow them to donate back to the college. The general assumption when I tell people I am an English major is that I want to be a teacher, which I don't. An English degree has direct futures in areas such as publishing, PR, journalism and more. Those opportunities get ignored when the Cal Poly community undervalues the major. While the inability of liberal arts students to find high paying jobs may be more dependent on a culture and job market that undervalues them, Cal Poly is not innocent in its treatment of its students.

As someone close to graduating, finding a full time job has been one of my primary concerns, and Cal Poly has done little to help me. The expectation graduating with a liberal arts degree from this school is that I will go into teaching. Though that is appealing for many of my classmates, it isn’t something I want to do. It also isn’t something that I knew about when applying to Cal Poly, and I know I am not the only student who has become frustrated by this system. Career services had limited options for helping me; there aren’t many connections for liberal arts students. Career fairs on campus have turned out to be a waste of my time because all the employers are looking for students in STEM. I’ve watched my friends in engineering get internships and jobs through connections at Cal Poly, and it is unbelievably frustrating that the university will not put the same amount of care into my future.

Notably the English department has attempted to create events to help people in my major. But this is despite the universities lack of funding or caring about my department. Furthermore, those events are for my major, and other smaller liberal arts majors do not get the same level of attention. This university is complacent in perpetuating the degradation of a liberal arts education which is prevalent in American culture.

Cal Poly may enjoy its facade of liberal arts education through its incorporation of GEs for all students, but that is not doing enough. Though the university may require all its students to take liberal arts classes, there is a general disregard for GEs among both students and teachers. This disregard is something I too have been complacent in; why care about a class that is barely affecting your degree or degree progress? They are usually easy to get an A in, making it even more frustrating when one of my required English classes is a GE. But GEs are important. It matters that Cal Poly educates its students in a variety of fields, because a well educated population benefits the community. An educated population helps improve the economy and push for social change.

It is no wonder liberal education is so undervalued on a campus that protects racists. Look no further than the black face incident last year, or the annual free speech wall, or the numerous racist frat parties, or any of the other racist occurrences on or near campus. Liberal arts education teaches critical thinking which helps to lessen the effects of racism and discrimination by teaching people to think for themselves and not blindly believe what they were told when they were raised. Liberal arts teaches empathy and social change through learning about cultures and their differences. Though liberal arts education cannot entirely fix centuries of discrimination, it helps privileged individuals take the first step in understanding their position and actively opposing systemic causes of inequality.

Liberal arts my not bring in as much money as STEM fields, but that does not inherently make it less valuable. Cal Poly is supposed to be a non-profit organization, but its focus is clearly what will make the most money. This university is not truly focused on the benefit of its students, because if it were it would place a higher importance on teaching liberal arts, both for majors classes and GEs. Liberal arts education would greatly benefit the campus climate here in San Luis Obispo, as well as better prepare all Cal Poly students to be independent after they leave. Liberal arts students deserve to be treated equally to STEM students by both the university and our peers. Studying the liberal arts has social value beyond monetary gain, and that should be a primary focus at this university.