As an English major, I often feel overlooked and left out on campus. I know there are more of us than are immediately apparent, but I can’t help feeling shocked and thrilled when I meet someone else in my department. According to Emory’s 2017-18 Common Data Set, the College awarded 3.12 percent of last year’s graduating class bachelor degrees in English, compared to 16.22 percent who earned bachelors in business or marketing and 13.22 percent who earned bachelors in biological or life sciences. I tried to fit into the pre-business mold, signing up for economics courses and trying to convince myself that QTM 100 wasn’t that bad. But after just a week of those, I realized Goizueta was not for me. If I didn’t enjoy these topics now, why would I enjoy them any more in 30 years?
As I looked through the syllabus for a literature class, I suddenly found myself much more excited for the next four years than I felt in economics. That’s when I finally understood the Emory mission to inspire a love for lifelong learning, as I finally was looking forward to class in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I declared my major in the English department not long after that.
However, I didn’t fully realize the extent to which the emphasis on these pre-professional-oriented subjects pervades the undergraduate experience until I arrived on campus in 2017. It’s not even about being outnumbered; I am often met with judgement, bordering on hostility, when I reveal that I am studying English and political science — as though I am somehow not on the same academic level as the hordes of pre-med and pre-business students that dominate campus. If I complain about being tired after a long night of studying, I receive dubious looks accompanied by the snarky, “It’s not like you have to study. You’re an English major” as though I am not allowed to struggle academically because of my “easy” major. While I understand that ,now more than ever, liberal arts majors are incredibly valued in the workplace for their ability to adapt to new situations, these comments from my peers sting nonetheless.
However, I have found solace in the exceptional quality of professors within the comparatively small English and political science departments. Last week, almost a year after I arrived at Emory, I came across a flyer for the Decatur Book Festival. While I am an avid reader and thoroughly enjoy hearing panels about modern literary topics, I didn’t think much of the flyer. Honestly, I thought it was a mistake that it was posted on this campus. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the festival was presented by Emory University. Emory? A literary event? Then I noticed the number of English faculty on the event schedule. I even recognized a political science professor speaking. Emory’s English department is composed of incredibly accomplished faculty — the Creative Writing Program is nationally recognized. That being said, I’ve felt those accomplishments are often not given the notoriety of similar accomplishments from other fields.
Emory’s impressive showing at the event was reassuring in and of itself, but it was more than just the number of Emory English students and faculty members who were present and discussing their work. When I hear about Emory in the news or around campus, it is often in the form of science research or business accolades. While I still take pride in that recognition as a member of the Emory community, I often feel as though my own impact can never be as significant, all because of the subjects I study. Emory’s involvement in the Decatur Book Festival changed that. That weekend was one of the first times I was able to relate to someone accomplishing things in the name of the University. It wasn’t just the individual professor or faculty being recognized for their expertise; it validated the entire English department, and me by extension. I have always been proud to study English at such an accomplished university, but the Decatur Book Festival made me feel a little less alone in that endeavor.
Madison Stephens is a College sophomore from Little Rock, Ark.