An Ode to an Arts Degree in a Society that Devalues a School of Thought Which is as Vital as Breathing In and Of Itself24 November 2020
I think of my Arts degree as a house. Each room is a course, each level a new year I spent at university, slowly building this intricate structure.
In one room, American History, we learnt how the American Dream was born from the heart of religion that spread across the United States in the 17th century. In a room across the landing, Middle Eastern Politics, we began to scratch the surface of the complex power dynamics of the Middle East, studying catalytic moments of protest like the Arab Spring uprisings—monumental events that gave rise to a complex blend of new political structures, conflicts, and in some cases, freedom.
Another room has dark flashes of red across the walls, perhaps blood, or maybe it’s just the colour of pure anger. This will always be my favourite room in the house. Politics of Sex. There are posters all over the walls, and every item is provocative. A pair of emerald earrings left on a nightstand next to the bed could be a simple adornment to a woman—or it could be a symbol of the patriarchy. Many a woman has passed through this room, creating her identity, reconceiving her body and her place in the world. Rethinking the rights men have to hold her and portray her. This room is never lonely. There is always a woman there for a discussion when I return.
There is a room called Political Economy, where a projector illuminates current event news articles and video clips on every wall. We spent hours analysing these images and videos, trying to grasp how economics and politics are inextricably linked to create the trends we see globally: populism, economic deregulation, income inequality.
Down the hall, there are clean, organised rooms which hold keys to other rooms; these are the technical subjects I took which taught me how to research and to write, sifting through information to construct an argument.
There’s a room with a balcony attached to it. Indigenous Land Law and Philosophy. You enter the balcony through this room. And when you are on the balcony you finally learn what was never properly taught to you throughout your entire years of schooling. How every inch of the foundation of your house is built on land belonging to people who have cared and nurtured this soil for thousands upon thousands of years. When you reach this balcony, you will then need to question everything you have thought about your country, and you must continue doing this for the rest of your life. You will, at 20 years of age, realise that the paradigm you see the world through is only one way of perceiving the world. Not the way. No realisations run deeper than this for you.
There is a quote by writer Pam Allyn that reading is ‘breathing in’ and writing is ‘breathing out’. This is what we do in Arts—breathe in and out. With each inhale, a new understanding of a different part of the world, a different way to perceive a highly fraught issue. With each exhale, an attempt to formulate this knowledge into a coherent structure: to compel your readers and more importantly to compel yourself with arguments pulled together from the great thinkers from this time, and from many times before.
Arts degrees need to be rethought in Australia.
Understanding them as easy, ‘bludge’ degrees for lazy people who lack the intellectual rigour to pursue another pathway denies at its most fundamental level the stories we explore in arts—stories of power, stories of oppression, stories of knowledge. It denies the skills we learn: critical thinking, creativity, argumentation, communication, reflection. It denies every person studying Arts their house, their foundation.
The Government’s recent announcement that they will be increasing the cost of humanities degrees by 113% is the clearest indicator of the complete, nation-wide devaluation of this discipline. Using economic incentives to deter people from pursuing Arts is a blunt and crude instrument that has blindingly clear implications for which socioeconomic groups will be able to pursue this degree, and which won’t.
Virginia Woolf writes that it is essential to have a room of one’s own. This degree, this house—it is my home. It is the foundation from which I will see and understand the world for the rest of my life. The government of this country needs to wake up to the importance of the humanities as a valuable, worthwhile field and pursuit. They need to do it now, before these homes are permanently destroyed.