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Major shaming

On shutting up and respecting the choices made by others

The other day, my friends and I decided to make fun of different majors and the fools who pursue them. About to open my mouth and deliver a scathing monologue of some sort, I realized my hypocrisy. I’m an English major for God’s sake — my own glass house can’t handle any stones. After all, I’ve been on the wrong side of “major shaming” since my first day at the University.

I remember meeting a guy last September whose first sentence to me was, “Wow, you’re an English major? I haven’t met any of those yet.” Yes, because I forgot majors are baseball cards you can actually collect. He then followed up with, “You must be really brave.”

Brave? Is being an English major a death sentence I’m not aware of? Do I get a last meal? A family visit before I declare and it’s official?

This experience wasn’t an abnormality, and soon I got used to these comments. They varied in level of heedlessness due to the assumption that the criticism was somehow helpful. Trust me, even if they were meant “with love,” such observations only had a negative effect.

The worst response I ever got was a friend’s parent, who informed me that I would be obsolete in 10 years. That hurt. After that, I spent a long time debating my life choices and convinced myself I could complete an Economics major. I lasted two weeks in a calculus class before I realized that, yeah, I’m an English major. I couldn’t force myself to do something I didn’t love. To attempt would just result in a lack of effort and eventual failure.

I wasted a lot of time feeling embarrassed. When I told people I was an English major, I would sound apologetic — as though it was some shameful secret I should have kept hidden. I would then hastily add that I was going to double major to cover whatever transgression I imagined I committed. Maybe I was squandering my University education or something?

This is what I lived with my first year at the University. My second year, I came back with confidence and no longer let such comments get to me. However, I apparently came back ignorant, as I didn’t see my own major-shaming hypocrisy for a very long time.

How could I judge others’ life choices? How can anybody? As far as I’m concerned, unless you labored for 30 hours to bring someone into this world, raised them and paid for their college tuition, such comments should be kept to yourself. Making someone feel less intelligent, less hardworking and less successful will only kill their confidence.

When it comes to “easy” majors, the liberal arts especially are under fire — and so is anything that isn’t STEM. In a society that holds science and technology in such high regard, we often don’t give liberal arts their due. Like STEM fields, liberal arts studies bring much to the table and assist in the betterment of our daily lives. So why criticize someone who is going to take something they love and actually use it one day to do us a service? It seems counterintuitive to me.

We shouldn’t judge and we shouldn’t pretend we know what’s best for everyone. There is more than one way to be successful, and it’s up to the individual to choose their path. Keep in mind that doubtful looks and pitying comments help nobody — even if you and your friends think it’s funny at the time. And don’t even get me started on the “School of Arts and Crafts.”

Abigail’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at