I have never been a STEM person. As early as elementary school, I strongly preferred the vocabulary list memorization and imaginative story writing of language arts to the humdrum multiplication tables of math and yawn-inducing cell diagrams of science.
I’m sure that many other people probably had similar tastes at such a young age — only to switch sides as puberty hit and recess became but a distant memory. But not me. I never wavered. And even as a senior in high school, just as my younger self would have guessed, it still took a great deal of self-restraint to keep myself from crawling out of my AP Calculus class on my hands and knees in desperate search of literally anything else.
Even with strong affinity for the humanities and social sciences, I still wound up in the heart of Silicon Valley. Granted, the alleged “techie” versus “fuzzy” divide that was frequently brought up in various college forums was one factor that made me slightly hesitant in my decision to come here, but I continued on with what had been my dream since I was 13 years old.
And for the majority of my first year, I mostly forgot about the divide that had at one point seemed so daunting. It actually had very little influence on my life. I made a lot of friends who hadn’t fallen head over heels for CS. I greatly enjoyed my typically smaller class sizes. And I managed to — for the most part — erase every memory of the math classes that almost brought me to tears. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are still true. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve come to notice a sort of “intellectual hierarchy” that seems to be present on campus among some students, in which those who perform well in STEM subjects are considered the most impressive, and everyone else just kind of falls somewhere below.
I am well aware that a difference in interests or passions does not make any one person objectively smarter than another. But I’m not sure if everyone else would necessarily agree with me. Just the other day, a friend of mine who majors in CS said that she met someone over the summer who she believes is one of the smartest people she has ever met. Her follow-up statement was that if this friend of hers went here, no one would even agree with her because he’s a philosophy major. I wish that I could laugh that thought off as far from the truth, but I can’t.
People constantly rave about mathematical and coding abilities as if those who possess them are superhuman. And I will wholeheartedly admit that being a CS or chemistry or math genius is indeed very impressive, and I have so much respect for the people who put in that work. It’s just that I never hear anyone talking about the admirable history major who can spew facts about the United States and foreign countries like it’s nothing, or the TAPS major who has performances so moving that they can bring people to tears in a matter of seconds. What about those abilities? Are they not impressive as well? Why does no one ever talk about them here, or at least not outside of those subject-specific classes?
I have never been a STEM person, and I never will be. But I can still sincerely applaud those who are. I simply wish that more people would realize that there’s a wider range of impressive abilities out there than those confined to a four-letter abbreviation.
Contact Kassidy Kelley at kckelley ‘at’ stanford.edu.