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Friday, September 29, 2023

STEM versus humanities: the war that shouldn’t exist

On the off chance you’ve been paying attention to my byline, you may have noticed I have two very different majors: English and computer science. I can already tell that your reaction is probably one of two things: complete, utter confusion or a strange, hesitant sense of awe — maybe even some combination of the two. Whatever it is, I get it. Even though people who are good at both artsy things and tech things exist (and are actually far more common than you’d believe), it’s rare that someone decides to take the leap and actually do both things. But trust me, we’re around. I know someone double majoring in mathematics and art and someone else who is a pre-med English major. And I’m sure others like us are out there.

When I went to the advising office to drop off some forms related to my dual degree, a very enthusiastic desk associate bombarded me with questions about my double life: Which do you prefer? (Well, it depends on the project.) How do you de-stress from one or the other? (Actually, when I’m super-focused on coding, I get the best writing ideas and vice versa.) Do you drink a lot of coffee? (You don’t even know.) He was very friendly, and I was more than happy to tell him about how I balance my majors. But as I left the office, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself: Why are people so surprised by this?

For some reason, society has built this rigid science, technology, engineering and mathematics-versus-the-arts mentality and has bombarded us with it since childhood. It’s in our TV shows. It’s in our movies. It’s in ouar classrooms. We’ve grown up believing STEM and humanities exist at polar opposites of some institutionalized spectrum.

Most “hardcore” STEM people believe technology and science are the only evolving and pertinent fields out there. An engineering major in my calculus class freshman year bragged about how all other majors were irrelevant. When I was 16, my friend convinced me to come to a For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics meeting with her, where some man on a television screen announced to us that only STEM mattered and fields like theater and literature were dying because they just told the same stories over and over again.

And don’t think humanities people are free from blame here, either. I’ve heard so many really artsy people brag about how cut off they are from technology and how they don’t know how to do math. I’ve had a lot of those people tell me I’m not truly following my passion because I decided to double major. They go on sipping their overpriced black coffee and lament that STEM is waging a war against the arts and that the divide will forever be there.

To these people, I say get over yourself.

There is no spectrum with science on one end and art on the other. The human brain is capable of such profound complexities, be it engineering an algorithm or writing a novel, painting a masterpiece or constructing a new app. Hailing one accomplishment as superior to another is trivializing. Just look at Leonardo Da Vinci: talented artist and fantastic inventor who knew there could be no science without art and vice versa.

The best, brightest people I know understand that there is no severe dichotomy between STEM and the humanities, that there are really cool, really wonderful and really amazing things happening in both worlds. They are engineers who paint in their free time. They are musicians who take chemistry classes for fun. They are math professors who love to discuss the complexities of literature. They are professional writers fascinated by what the world of technology offers to the medium of storytelling. Even if they don’t have particular talent or affinity for their alternate interests, they still appreciate the hard work, passion and drive that goes into it.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior, and she is quite proud it. Her column appears on Thursdays.

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