I rarely ever tell people what I’m majoring in. I much prefer to make them guess. 

Most days, this strategy serves me well. The first time I wore the mustard yellow woolen sweater my mum bought me last December, I was told that I dress like a Humanities major. Given that my first ignorant winter in America involved pairing shirts, t-shirts and collared t-shirts with a rotating collection of dark gray sweatpants, the compliment was a validation of sartorial progress.

Last week, a close friend asked if I was a Political Science major, because I seem to care about “what’s going on with the world.” Though I disagreed with his generously short yardstick, I took that as a compliment as well. And then, there was the racist old lady who saw me bedecked in a Yale sweatshirt in an art gallery in Florida and asked, “do-you-go-to-Yale-and-also-do-you-study-computer-science,” in the same runaway breath. I’m only grateful she didn’t ask to meet my 78 cousins, my pet cow or the fictive helicopter parents who have been planning my arranged marriage since I was six. 

My aversion to talking about my major makes for more than a litmus test of my academic aesthetic, or even the first impressions I unknowingly cultivate. It is also the reason that a close friend didn’t realize I was double majoring in MB&B, along with the Humanities. It seems that my loud, constant praises of Walter Benjamin and my penchant for unnecessarily using the word “Kantian” concealed my appreciation for cell papers describing how mutations of the xDFG motif for CDK11B affect OTS964 sensitivity. Even so, I would be lying if I said his innocence did not make me happy. It felt like the validation of what I can only describe as an unconsciously concerted project to conceal my STEMness. 

Before I am flooded by a deluge of messages from indignant friends majoring in Physics, I will clarify that I have loved my STEM education at Yale. MB&B Biochemistry core requirements have been some of my best taught and most collaborative classes. Critically reading scientific literature is one of the most useful skills I will graduate with. And I’ve forged countless close friendships in the heat of Organic Chemistry II.

And yet, I rarely talk about my STEM classes. In fact, many of my conversations about science classes are better described as weekly diatribes about the length of yet another problem set. Humanities classes, on the other hand, generate endless conversation topics. Close friends are more likely to know the weekly reading list of my seminar on iconic consciousness and material culture than they are to know that I’m taking a physics lab class this semester. 

Accessibility certainly plays a role in this discrepancy. Explaining the significance of a paper about a newly discovered Cas protein to a friend who does not know the difference between DNA and RNA is far more cumbersome than discussing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s individualism with a friend who has never read an Emerson essay. But I’d be remiss if I did not admit that such dissimulation is largely driven by self-perception.

There is a dearth of Indian men in the humanities, caused largely by an education system that overvalues STEM, relegating what is termed the “arts” to a gendered, underappreciated sphere. This culture percolated even into my high school’s IBDP program — an ostensibly “holistic” approach to education — in which numerous friends equated their mathematical prowess and their antipathy for literature with their vaunted intellectual superiority. Perhaps that is why I wear my predilection for the humanities on my sleeve. It is a badge of honor, an affirmation that I do not conform to the stereotypes others like to traffick in. 

Most importantly, though, I have always feared being victimized by the analytical/creative binary with which so many Yalies like to conceive of the world. To admit I am also a STEM student is to invite comments from poetry professors about how I will be well-suited to analyze the meter of a Miltonian verse. Scansion is well and good, but I would much rather focus on imagery. 

In an academic environment in which buzzwords like “interdisciplinarity” and “different perspectives” populate every new paper on pedagogy and every class’s Canvas page, such a minor criticism can feel like a quibble. But to think that a STEM student is only a valuable addition to a humanities class because they will appreciate the metaphor of a “laboratory” that one uses to explain Zola’s construction of Therese Raquin, or to think that a humanities student can only be a good physicist because they will be most appreciative of the elegance of a proof, is to prove my point entirely.

It seems ludicrous to have to affirm that applied math majors can debate Hegel with the best of them and that there are English majors who are much better at retrosynthesis than I ever was. And shockingly, STEM and humanities double majors want to do more than write a thesis on Karl Popper. Some of them want to write two distinct theses — one on Russian realism and another on RNA biology. 

When the language and anecdotes we use to extoll the virtues of interdisciplinarity is rife with subtext about the way people think, we reveal how easy it is to categorize people’s intellectual interests purely by major. Ironically, in a school whose disinclination to minors was meant to produce a graduating class of polymaths, the existence of single majors has lent itself especially well to intellectual stereotyping. 

So let the English majors try to prove Fermat’s last theorem. Let the mathematicians debate Wilson’s analysis of Queer Harlem, Queer Tashkent: Langston Hughes’s “Boy Dancers of Uzbekistan”. And the Political Science, Economics and Global Affairs majors who I have not even considered? Let them eat cake. 

PRADZ SAPRE is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at pradz.sapre@yale.edu.

Pradz Sapre is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and the Humanities. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at pradz.sapre@yale.edu