Ontario’s Universities have been #futuring for more than six months now, engaging with community and business leaders, and hearing directly from students about their hopes and concerns for the future.
Nipissing University recently held an Undergraduate Research Conference, which included a roundtable discussion on the importance to the future of the Humanities and Liberal Arts. In all, students from various disciplines shared how their own educational experiences have enabled them to critically read the world and imagine social change at a time of disruption and uncertainty.
In an era of alternative facts and myriad forms of social injustice, students from a variety of disciplines including English, Psychology, Social Justice and Religions and Cultures, were asked how their educational experiences inside and outside the classroom have enabled them to think critically about – or make sense of – the world. Taking that a step further, they were asked to imagine how they might intervene to promote a brighter future.
“Our education enables us to imagine a different world,” said Aaron Brown, who studies English Literature. “I’d say I’ve spent my degree in hundreds of worlds – Wonderland, Narnia, the New World, and so on.”
Being able to envision societies from past, present and future has enabled students like Aaron to think critically about the sort of utopia he’d like to reach, but also the dystopias he wants to avoid.
“Education has opened my mind to see more of what goes on behind closed doors in our world today,” said Erin Creed, a Gender Equality & Social Justice major.
It’s precisely this training in how to engage with different perspectives and ideas that has led experts such as Matthew T. Hora, the author of Beyond the Skills Gap, to espouse the importance of a humanities education for students today. Courses in the humanities, as well as in the social sciences, “broaden a person’s experience through the engagement with other cultures, ideas and arguments,” Hora said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. If once there seemed to be a push to emphasize science and technology over the humanities, it’s increasingly clear today that both perspectives, both skill sets, are necessary for a thriving economy and society.
It was Steve Jobs, after all, who said “that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”
The humanities, Hora says, “cultivate the kinds of communication and critical-thinking skills that are valued by employers,” something that Nipissing students emphasized in their responses as well.
“My education allows me to ask critical questions to help make sense of current events related to race, crime, and punishment,” said Calvin Green, a Criminology major.
“The humanities are a necessary discipline if we want to not only understand, but improve our world,” said Brittany James, Religions and Cultures major. “The world requires trail blazers in order to grow and this is what an education in the humanities creates.”
It’s this kind “trail blazing” that has likely helped humanities students fill 19 per cent of leadership positions in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom, according to a report from The British Council.
It’s no surprise, then, that for many Nipissing students, the ability to think critically is the first step towards an aspirational career in social and global justice. “By broadening my world view, my education has inspired me to pursue a career practicing International Human Rights Law,” said Lea Call, a Gender Equality & Social Justice major.
For students like Kirstin Loates who studies Psychology, an education in the humanities has provided her with the ability to question the implications of her research before starting out. Loathe says it’s important to ask questions like: “Who does this really help?”
Conversations like this one are taking place at campuses across Ontario as Ontario’s universities continue to reach out to Ontarians for their insights on how to create a better future for our province.
Keep checking our blog and social channels for more updates. If you’d like to get involved yourself, fill out our survey or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know your thoughts on the future of Ontario.