Opinion: Humanities at Sciences Po, a Shocking Welcome

By Qile Sara Loo

I was absolutely certain about two things when I decided to come to Sciences Po: first, that I would be immersed in diversity (in terms of the student population and the interdisciplinary courses taken); and second, that I would be surrounded by like-minded students, passionate about the Humanities. These factors brought me both worry and excitement, as I prepared to brace the uncertainties that awaited me regarding student life, a new environment, and all concerns of entering university in general. Yet, while the student diversity exceeded my expectations, after getting used to the way of life in this laid-back small town on the French Riviera, I started to question whether I was really studying alongside like-minded students.

I assumed that everyone in Sciences Po would be passionate about the Humanities, but I was wrong. It soon became clear that the Humanities is an incredibly broad category. When talking with some schoolmates over our future career intentions, and specifically about my intention to major in History, their responses were similar: from asking if I was planning to be a historian or a history teacher, to “what is the point of majoring in History?”, and were largely characterized by disparaging looks and disagreement. I was taken aback not because this was my first time hearing such stereotypical responses, but because these came from schoolmates here in Sciences Po. I was shocked that such myopic views of History were still strongly evident (albeit among a minority of the students) in an institution which I believed comprises students who value the larger purpose of pursuing an education in the field of the humanities. While the majority of students here share my sentiment that History, as with any other humanities subject, is valuable not just practically, but also intrinsically, the existence of the aforementioned views among several students here was a sufficient cause of disappointment.

I assumed that everyone in Sciences Po would be passionate about the humanities, but I was wrong.

Another popular question I’m asked, mainly by people outside of Sciences Po — such as my bank counsellor and my landlord — is what I plan to do after Sciences Po. The honest answer is, I don’t know, but there is overwhelming pressure to provide a concrete answer. People uninvolved with the school would (overtly) suggest that an education here warrants us a place in politics, in whichever country we come from, while humanitarian associations would suggest that too many Sciences Po graduates have gone into the aforementioned field and the finance sector, and appeal to us to go into humanitarian fields. While I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with these points of views, nor am I trying to defy data of the number of students who do actually go into these fields, it reminds me once again of what the general perception of education is: a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.

In both cases, the people of Sciences Po have failed to recognize the intrinsic value of an education in the Humanities: that it fosters a sharper, more critical mind; that defending your own and attacking other points of views fosters eloquence and quick-thinking skills; that having a stand on something we are not necessarily passionate about fosters empathy; that being well versed in a range of disciplines in the social sciences strengthens our ability to establish connections and appreciate the wholeness of what constitute the Humanities.

It reminds me once again of what the general perception of education is: a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.

What was presented to me as a ‘welcome package’ (the cumulation of views of others I have interacted with since I got here) brought nothing short of shock and disappointment. Perhaps I painted an overly rosy picture of what was to be; perhaps I felt that the dilemma between being pragmatic and pursuing the humanities was a culture- or country-specific notion. But it’s not; it is an inevitable, universal dilemma— even in an institution which focuses on that.

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