By now, I’m sure most sophomores (and Bowdoin students in general) have heard the words, “your major does not matter.” For some people, this can be true. But for others, this saying comes off as incredibly naive. As a first-generation woman of color with no real connections that can land me a job after college, it certainly comes off as naive.
If I am being totally honest, I am still unsure about what I want to major in. Here I am, a sophomore, still taking intro courses because I am struggling to find a department to call home. On the one hand, I want a degree that will help me land a well-paying job. On the other hand, I don’t want to major in something that will make me feel miserable. In other words, what major can help me land a job that is fulfilling to both my bank account and my soul?
Logistics aside, there are several conundrums that I have run into as I think of what I want to potentially major in. The first conundrum is, do I want to major in science or in the humanities? All of my classes fall into either category, so it makes sense for me to major in one. The other conundrum: what story do I want to tell? By this I mean, what narrative do I want to attach my name to? Obviously one’s major isn’t how you should define yourself but, in my opinion, it is linked to your identity in some way. It tells people what you are generally interested in.
What I am trying to get at here is that I feel a lot of push and pull to be either a STEM major or a humanities major. It’s not like I can’t double major, however, considering that I have taken a lot of random classes, I would be starting my major late. One of my personal ambitions is to be a STEM major, but I also want to learn the history of my people, a history that is undervalued in the American public education system.
As a woman of color who grew up in a predominantly Black and Latinx community, I was always curious about Latinx and Black history. In history classes in high school, my peers and I were genuinely upset that we had little time to learn about the history that most directly applies to our demographic. Despite the fact that my history teachers tried to sneak in a few lessons that more directly applied to us, the school curriculum was often so packed that we could never learn what we really wanted.
While this may seem obvious to some, the exclusion of Latinx and Black history from American history curricula is shameful. The fact that I grew up in a Black and Latinx community, but I wasn’t able to learn much of our history until college is shameful. The American education system can do more to accurately represent history and teach us about the lives of those who suffered great discrimination at the hands of adored lawmakers and politicians.
On that note, I want to shift back my attention to my interest in STEM. As a child, I was always interested in how the universe worked. I would ask my father questions like “why does a flashlight turn on when you press a button?” or “why does Saturn have rings?” I always liked being able to explain different processes and then teaching them to other people. My annoying childhood questions laid the foundation for my desire to want to enter a STEM field.
In high school, I excelled in math and physics. When I got to Bowdoin, though, I realized how unexposed I was to many STEM opportunities, despite the fact that I took every opportunity I could. As I think about majors, I also think of my overall preparation and the lack of representation of BIPOCs in STEM. Let’s be very real for a second here. Some majors are more diverse than others. While there aren’t enough BIPOCs on this campus to have more representation across different majors, Bowdoin could definitely do more to support students of all backgrounds as they enter the majors and fields of their choice. While I feel like I have had many conversations about diversity in STEM fields with my friends, I genuinely think it is not a conversation that is held across the greater campus community. While my friends and I all agree that Bowdoin can do more to support BIPOCs, particularly those who come from low income communities or underfunded-high schools, in STEM fields, the people who would benefit the most from listening to these conversations are either unaware or just not listening .
As we slowly head into the spring semester and major declaration season, I want to pose some questions. One, does your major matter? And, two, who does it matter for? For me, picking a major is more than just filling out a form. It tells people what I want to learn while also telling people what I haven’t learned.
Ebe Figueroa is a member of the Class of 2024.