Every liberal arts student gets asked the same question come the Thanksgiving holiday:
“So, what are you going to do with that?”
When I declared my major, I fielded that same question from every single family member who locked eyes with me over the turkey. I think I answered with something different every time. Eventually, I settled with a chipper “beats me.”
It’s hard to major in the humanities when every listicle about college says to skip straight to the moneymakers. Disciplines like English, philosophy, and religion are frequently dismissed as useless, unless you’re looking for a quirky edge when applying for law school. If there was a dollar for every time a humanities student was asked about their future teaching careers, we could pay off our student loans.
I majored in the humanities because, well, it’s what I’m good at. I enjoy writing, reading, and asking big questions. I chose to major in the humanities without a specific career track in mind. I thought I would figure it out as I went. I’d be a teacher, or a writer—or maybe I’d win the lottery. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I found out I could actually get employed with my decidedly non-STEM skill set.
During the fall, my philosophy professor and advisor asked if I would like to get involved with a small group of students who peer reviewed submissions for Janus Head. Constitutionally incapable of saying no, I joined the group. The first submission sent out to the group baffled me. It was philosophical content that was way over my head, but it was riddled grammar mistakes I had learned to correct in middle school. The group met and vigorously argued over whether we should accept the paper. We were undergraduates weighing in on graduate-level work. It was fun, it was engaging, and it played directly into my studies.
I have been a part of the Janus Head team for two years. I’m now the senior member of the peer review group headed to my first review meeting of the year. My skill set has grown considerably; I’ve added marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and even political field organization to my resume. I owe most of my job opportunities to Janus Head. Who isn’t curious about an undergraduate who reviews for a philosophy journal?
When that same philosophy professor pulled me aside to ask about my interest in Simpson College Humanities Publications—a class on editing and publications—I agreed to sign up. I initially assumed the class was a course about editing and publishing—you know, exactly what it sounded like. In a pleasantly surprising turn of events, the class turned out to be more than that.
The class is designed to compile, edit, workshop, market, and publish two Simpson College staples: Sequel and Janus Head. It isn’t an overview of editing and design or a course for potential employment for humanities students. It’s an opportunity to gain practical experience working on two very different publications with a professional editor. The opportunity is a long time coming for Simpson students.
Sequel is a publication of creative works by Simpson students including poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and visual arts. The course intends to market a cover design contest, a reading event, and encourage more acquisitions than ever before. Since Sequel is specific to Simpson College, editors plan to meet with writers to provide the best possible product while fostering relationships between creative minds on campus.
Janus Head is a philosophical publication specializing in works regarding phenomenology, art, and continental philosophy, among others. The journal has been irregularly published in the past, but with the help of more Simpson students and an editing team we are on track to publish multiple volumes by the end of May of 2017. Submissions are generally acquired from graduate and post-graduate students from around the world. Simpson students will peer review the submissions, edit accepted work, and help publish upcoming volumes.
While growing pains are bound to happen as this class runs through its first semester, it’s encouraging to see an opportunity for students that hasn’t been widely available before. Gaining the experience editing, designing, publishing, and marketing for creative publications gives humanities students an option to utilize a liberal arts degree in a career-minded way. More importantly, it shows that humanities students do have marketable skills— even if we aren’t engineering geniuses or business mavens.
Critical thinking and asking big questions will always matter to me as a humanities student. Learning to instill those abilities into something tangible matters to me as a senior ready to enter into the work force.
Next time my friends and family ask the inevitable, “What kind of jobs do you even apply to with that degree?” I will have a much more practical answer to give.
--Virginia Atwell, '17