By: Michelle Naim | News  | 

SCW English Dept. Hosts Panel on the Value of Humanities

The English Department of Stern College for Women held a panel entitled “The Value of the Humanities” on October 17. The event was moderated by Meirah Shedlo, a SCW academic advisor and alumna.

Of the panelists, one of the most notable was Dr. Paula M. Krebs, the executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Other panelists included Jacob Wisse, Professor of Art History at SCW and Director of the Yeshiva University Museum. Many alumni were also featured in the panel: Simi Lobell (SCW ‘14) who studied English with a concentration in creative writing, Aviva Feuerstein (SCW ‘10) who studied English Literature and Political Science at SCW, and Gila Yarmush (SCW ‘13), an English and history teacher for the NYC public school system.

In an email to The Commentator, Dr. Ann Peters, a SCW literature professor, explained that SCW English Chair Dr. Linda Shires spearheaded the idea for the panel this past summer. After this, Peters and Shedlo began planning the logistics of the event together.

To begin, Shedlo asked the panelists to define the humanities. Head of the MLA, Dr. Krebs, explained that the humanities are about “meaning and putting meanings together”. Her explanation included the fact that the humanities do not concern being a humanitarian, or helping people, but are rather about the way humans have analyzed and made meaning of things that other humans create. Yarmush added that the humanities are essentially about “finding the soul of us.”

Throughout the panel, Aviva Feuerstein made it clear that there will always be a need for people to clearly convey complex ideas and that is what makes studying the humanities a timeless endeavor. She added that her humanities degree helped her in positions at the FBI and NBA. Aviva explained the way comparative analysis between texts helped her as an analyst for the FBI. She also used the example of closely analyzing commas in Emily Dickinson during her literature classes at Stern as being the basis of what she does on a professional daily basis.  

The diversity of an English major, or any humanities major, was highlighted several times. Formerly working for the FBI, Aviva Feuerstein remarked that she started off “doing counter terror, and now [she is] working at the NBA”.

One student, Rachel Haber (SCW ‘19), asked the question many students had on their minds: How do we, as humanities majors, answer our parents, or anyone, who questions our decision to major in this field?

Dr. Krebs touched upon the fear that many humanities majors have about not finding a job. She remarked that “you’re not going to love to learn if you don’t love what you’re learning. The jobs you’ll have in 10 years don’t exist, there’s no sense in preparing for it! You learn on the job.” According to Simi Lobell, a writer and producer, “Mediocrity isn’t going to do it in any field. So [if someone asks you] “why are you doing this?” [The answer is] because you’re good at it”.

In a private interview after the panel with Dr. Paula M. Krebs, Director of the MLA, Dr. Krebs wanted to make sure that people knew the responsibility humanities faculty have towards their students: “We have a problem: that humanities faculty do not convey to their students what business faculty say to their students. [Why, you might ask?] Because humanities faculty have only ever been humanities faculty.” When asked why she believes humanities majors have lost in the job market, she said, “I think it’s hard for us not to get things right. Scientists are more used to that. We [humanities majors] like perfect papers.” Her ultimate point: We have to learn it is okay to fail.

Photo Credit: YU News
Photo Caption: (Left to Right:) Meirah Shedlo, Dr. Paula Krebs, Dr. Jacob Wisse, Aviva Feuerstein, Simi Lobell and Gila Yarmush