Humanities classes can be hard too


Living with three pre-meds requires a bit of an adjustment for my strictly humanities-wired brain. I have the urge (and rarely suppress it) to yell out “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!” whenever they talk about anything vaguely science-y. I mix up Orgo and Orgo lab and Biostat and Biochem and who’s in Lin Alg and who’s in Diff Eq; What’s the difference between them anyway? I have had multiple people using multiple techniques try to explain what Discrete (or Discreet?) Math is and I genuinely wonder if there is a Conspicuous Math to accompany it.

My living situation comes with perks of course: I can finally understand what the statistical deviation has to do with my test score. But it is hard not to feel somewhat intellectually inferior when I can barely do long division and need to review point-slope form for Macroeconomics.

​However, this year my ego-inflating savior has appeared in the form of IFP, or Intro to Fiction and Poetry. Yes, this class, which is taken by my mathematically minded companions to fulfill distribution requirements, has given me the boost to take my self-esteem back to its usually overblown level. For every x and y I fail to understand, there is a poetry assignment or a short story. Newton’s Third Law does state that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (See Ms. Clark? I do know physics!) I take a perverse joy in seeing my friends clumsily struggle through a poem analysis or grapple with an extended metaphor. Not that I am a great poet — quite the contrary. But it still belongs to my half of the brain.

​Apparently IFP had the reputation of being an easy A, but this year the department is attempting to rid the class of this label. Amid the begrudging of my friends, I applaud this effort. Although the class shouldn’t be soul-crushingly hard, writing is not easy. (I have enough crappy high school poetry to dispel that rumor.) Just writing a poem or story is hard; writing a good poem or story is harder. Sometimes at Hopkins the humanities are unfairly treated as easier than other disciplines. But whether I am in the library until 3 a.m. finishing a paper or my suitemate is in the library until 3 a.m. studying for Differential Equations and Applications, we are both suffering in the place at the same time.

​I hear a lot of complaining about the slight increase in intensity in the IFP class. It just makes me happier. I would never take Calculus 1 or Gen Chem or Intro to Computing and expect an easy intro course. “But that’s different — you can learn math, but you can’t learn, like, poetry,” I hear. I disagree. Writing, like math, takes practice, time, commitment, trial and error. It is possible to work hard and improve, or we would all still be writing angst-ridden middle school treatises. Also I disagree that everyone “learns” math. I took a full year of Calculus in high school and couldn’t explain what a derivative or an integral or anti-derivative is if my life depended on it.

​I know that the joy I feel when I see my friends suffer in their humanities is wrong; they are my friends and I should want them to succeed. But it is refreshing to be asked for help rather being the one constantly asking math questions. I love helping my Chem BME and Applied Math and Neuroscience friends with their poems and stories. It is an ego boost like no other. Alas, soon IFP will come to an end and the status quo will resume. A message to all my fellow humanities majors out there: Next time you miscalculate the tip or how many Dining Dollars you can spend per week, find the nearest pre-med ripping their hair our over a couplet.

Emeline Armitage is a sophomore International Studies major from Cleveland.

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