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The Big Question: Why Study the Humanities?

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Despite recent talk about “the end of the English major” and declining interest in the humanities, employers often say that the hallmarks of a liberal arts education—like breadth of knowledge and the ability to think critically and communicate clearly—are key to workforce preparedness and success, and recent research has shown the positive impact a humanities degree has on graduates’ earnings.

“That richness of thought and perspectives really helps our work,” Jonathan Valenti, FCLC ’98, a principal with Deloitte Consulting, told Fordham College at Lincoln Center students in February.

Last fall, Fordham continued the conversation with students by hosting its first-ever Humanities Day, on September 19. “We all know that today, the humanities are under siege in virtually every university in this country,” Brenna Moore, Ph.D., a professor of theology, said at the event. “The logic seems to be we need a stripped down, efficient society. … Today we gather to push back on this pernicious logic.”

Moore is a member of the Fordham Humanities Consortium, which aims to “help our students flourish as they choose majors that seem increasingly countercultural.” The new group organized the Humanities Day gathering in partnership with Fordham’s Career Center. More than 100 students gathered in the McShane Campus Center at Rose Hill to hear from alumni and faculty about the value of studying philosophy, history, and other humanities fields.

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Martha C. Nussbaum, a professor in the philosophy department and the law school at the University of Chicago, described one of the less tangible benefits she observed while guest lecturing in a required philosophy course at Utah Valley University.

“What I saw was joy,” she wrote of the spirited debate that followed her lecture. “The sort of joy the philosopher Seneca described: not the flighty joy of the partygoer, but a solid inner joy that comes from discovering yourself.”

For Justin Foley, FCRH ’95, GABELLI ’03, who double majored in urban studies and philosophy, it was about learning to think creatively and being open to new paths, which is how he went from working as a tenant organizer to earning a Fordham M.B.A. to becoming a program organizer for the Service Employees International Union.

“Nobody said, ‘Here’s what your career track is going to be,’” he said. “I really learned to indulge my curiosity about the world around me. … My undergrad time has given me a framework for my values.”

—Franco Giacomarra, FCLC ’19, and Adam Kaufman, FCLC ’08

Why did you study the humanities, and what has the experience done for you personally and professionally? Tell us at [email protected].

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