Icebreakers suck. Most people agree that these activities do not facilitate small talk, but rather put one’s negative traits on display. I learned this the hard way.
Cornell caught my interest with its famous motto “any person, any study,” however, theory and practice are completely different things.
During O-week, I learned to my dismay how intolerant my peers were regarding something arbitrary: people’s majors. Cornellians weren’t the open-minded people that brochures painted them out to be. Instead, they are rigid individuals with a narrow vision of what success entails. Although Cornell began as a liberal arts institution, it is currently defined by its STEM departments.
Most of my friends are engineers, seen as pseudo-gods in the university’s eyes. Supposedly, they suffer the most when it comes to academics and mental health, and are the only ones who have the “right” to complain about their workload. This is not just my opinion, but a fact echoed by countless memes on the Cornell Facebook page, as well as the rhetoric of students and faculty.
Frequently, I hear STEM students call my major “fake” because I’m not enrolled in 600-person lectures, however being in liberal arts isn’t as idealistic as people choose to believe. Our classes are difficult without the use of calculators. We still have to take math and science, along with prelims, papers, and language requirements. We have to write ten-page term papers, which carry a major weight on our grades, without knowing what the professor is looking for or if they agree with our argument. We have endless readings to complete where we evaluate various themes and motifs; as opposed to STEM, there is no singular correct answer in the humanities. STEM students are seen as practical individuals who make the most of their parents’ money, and have a “guaranteed” job after graduation. I wonder if the overemphasis of STEM will eventually become detrimental to students’ careers, creating less demand with more supply. The flexibility of liberal arts majors may be seen as indecisive, but these abstract disciplines allow people to work in a variety of fields.
This article isn’t meant to pit majors against each other, as your program does not define your intelligence. Rather, it highlights your passions and strengths. A major isn’t a weakness, nor something that someone should judge. Criticizing one’s major is an arbitrary measure of character and I propose a change. I hope one day I can participate in an icebreaker activity and not dread telling people my major, fearing pitying looks or exclamations of “That’s different” or “What is she going to do with that?”
Hopefully, Cornell can one day be worthy of its motto, “any person, any study.”