What if “change the world” was the most popular major in college?

Well, for starters, the business buildings probably wouldn’t be the fanciest places on campus. There would be a whole plethora of social justice classes with cool titles like “How Katrina Could Have Been Prevented 101,” “Stopping the Darfur Genocide 210,” “Feeding the Entire World With Sustainable Food Production 320,” and, the senior capstone, “Putting an End to Corporatization 500.”

However, at the moment, colleges are instead tending to focus on how much bang for your buck you can get out of such and such a degree rather than the ways in which university study can be used to better the world. This is why when someone share’s they are getting a degree in Women’s Studies, the response is invariably “What are you going to do with that?!?”

I remember my father being heckled by his friends at a family BBQ some 20 years ago when they learned that I, his youngest daughter, planned to major in English. One friend looked over at me and smirked “Why don’t you get a REAL degree?” Another claimed I must be going to college “Just for fun.” Well, “so there!” to all dad’s chums who heckled him (and me) about my trivial degree – turns out there ARE things you can do, like be a professor, thank you very much.

Sadly, the attitude displayed by these people 20 years ago has been upped to a much higher wattage today. Parents and students alike seem to look to college as some sort of ATM of degrees where you deposit your dough and withdraw your ticket to a well-paying career. Sure gives Paulo Freire’s notion of “the banking model of education” a different spin! While the student as empty vessel where the professor deposits knowledge model of education has thankfully waned (at least in many disciplines), what has not is the degree as ticket to a bigger bank statement model.

As another academic year is about to begin, and as I think about all the problems that plague our world, I so wish that more students would choose world changing as a life goal. Happily though, more students seem to be very interested in social justice and attack the activism project I assign in my Introduction to Women’s Studies classes with relish. This coming semester they will take part in an activism forum (the campus’ first) and here’s hoping they carry this change the world message with them as they continue their college careers. If you ask me, changing the world is a lot more important (and rewarding) than changing the numbers on one’s bank statement via a shiny business degree meant to serve as ticket into the corporate machine…


13 thoughts on “What if “change the world” was the most popular major in college?”

  1. Yeah just saying I am majoring in womens studies is enough to get people to respond, “so you’re planning on a lifetime of poverty.” That you may enjoy it and learn valuable skills that will stay with you for a lifetime if over looked. I usually here why didn’t you get a real degree. Or what do you need to study that for, you’re a woman. I personally believe that womens studies should be taught at the high school level. The sooner children learn to think critically about intersectionality the better.

  2. “Or what do you need to study that for, you’re a woman.”
    Wow, I’ve never heard that particular gem before.

    I think WS sould be taught from elementary school — I think high school is too late. That we wait until college, and that it is not required, is criminal. Gloria Steinem and co actually tried to get WS into k-5 over 30 years ago. Sadly, we’ve come nowhere fast on this one.

  3. I got that a lot in college. I double majored in WS and Pysch, my family would say, “well thank god you have the psych degree to fall back on…” RIIIIGHT.

    My old WS department had hand outs that they would give to every INTRO student that listed “what you can do with a WS degree.” These jobs ranged from politics to peace work to education to medicine, etc. I think it basically intended to show students that WS makes them an interdisciplinary student and can be both a supplement to any other field or act as a stand alone due to the versatile skills one learns in the major (critical thinking skills, writing, collaboration, etc.) I chose to combine it with psychology because i knew the importance of learning feminist therapy and implementing WS in my future clinical and academic 🙂

  4. I was an English major in college as well. Unfortunately, corporate America looks at me and laughs.

    “Parents and students alike seem to look to college as some sort of ATM of degrees where you deposit your dough and withdraw your ticket to a well-paying career.”

    And some of these people with technical degrees couldn’t formulate an argument if their jobs depended on it. Oh, the OTHER for-profit education business makes me sick (e.g. University of Phoenix). Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone.

  5. Feminist Gal,
    What a great idea regarding the what you can do with a WS degree handout. Ms. ran a similar article not long ago listing not only what you can do, but detailing the successful careers of many WMST grads.

    Hurray for English Majors!!! (I was one!) Have you seen Avenue Q? The song about English Majors is classic!

    Woudn’t you rather be laughed at by corporate America rather than embraced? Doesn’t this mean you are doing something right?

  6. great post! as someone who originally wanted a degree in graphic arts, only to hear her parents berate her about how she won’t be able to make any money….and how they “weren’t gonna pay” for something that won’t “pay off”….

    i implore y’all….PLEASE DON’T LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE!!! if you do, you’ll wind up like i did….a 40-something administrative assistant (a career path that was “chosen for me” and I HATE) being downsized and treated like you have the brains of a gnat by other people….

    sorry for the rant, professor….but i’m contemplating returning to school to get the degree i originally wanted….

  7. DiosaNegra,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate the rant!
    I hope you do return to school to get the degree you want — and please go where I teach so you can rant in my classes! 🙂

  8. I really liked this. I was curious if I could possibly get permission to include it in a “Freshperson Disorientation Guide” over here at Vassar.

  9. Go get it… even though credentials are all about political and social posturing, get them. The system is set up so we need them to move forward and have “respect” from everyone else… so, credential up so those crazy people who would say you’re not “qualified” because you don’t have a degree can eat their own toejam.


  10. TPQ,
    Thanks for reading and for your comment!
    I agree that the system is rigged in favor of those with fancy papers. But, as someone inside this system, I also think there is real value in edu — esp of the feminist, queer variety!

  11. Interesting article because I am in the process of trying to choose my major. I am not interested in making a lot of money with my major. My main goal is to pick something that interests me because I feel like great things will follow if I do and besides that, I’m more likely to do well in something that interestst me. Just for kicks I googled “college major to help change the world”. Because I really want to help change the world. It really needs a change, beyond anything that any politicians can offer.

  12. O.W.

    Thanks for reading!!! Not interested in making money?!? Are you one of those crazy socialists? Ha!

    Yes, go with something you love. You can find ways to change the world via any discipline… But, I am of course partial to women’s studies…

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