The Pen and the Sword
Being an English major taught me not only how to defend my beliefs, but how to have them in the first place.
By Lindsey Davis, Iowa State University
I’m an English major, you know, the major that will “never get a job”?
Which, to be sure, isn’t true, because who wouldn’t want a Starbucks-worshiping, hipster-glass-wearing, lover of Shakespeare snobbishly strutting through their workplace? Oh, I should mention, if there’s one thing I’ve been critiqued on as an English major it’s to never, ever rely on stereotypes.
As a student who’s constantly saturated in literature and writing, you would think the most profound lesson I’ve learned is how to use a semi-colon correctly or what Emily Dickinson really means when she says, “Forever is composed of nows.” I can proudly announce that I do know the answers to both (see Mom, I really am getting my tuition money’s worth), but those aren’t the examples I will use in a future interview when someone asks, “What did being an English major really do for you?”
My English major has taught me to form an opinion and generate unique, well thought out responses. It’s taught me that I have a voice deserving of recognition. It’s taught me that the people who in the past I’ve perceived as a hell of a lot more intelligent than I am, are actually just the people who talk the most. It’s also taught me that voicing my opinion can help improve upon, as well as expand the worldview of my peers. What I’ve learned is that raising my hand to dispute my classmate’s claim that “‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is a superficial, unrealistic novel unsuited for the eyes and ears of precious young adult readers” is empowering. Seriously, what is better than showing off your intellect by making an intelligent, firm argument that leaves your opponent rethinking their whole stance?
I’ve never been a fan of embarrassing people for the sake of trying to win a point, and I’ve never quite enjoyed taking the route of knocking people personally in order to appear smarter. As a college-educated individual, you would think that my fellow college-educated peers and professors would also understand that responding to an opinion with a personal attack is petty and unprofessional. Yet, you’d be surprised how often this happens; maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. I’ve come to the conclusion that because of past classmates and instructors’ demeaning responses to my well-constructed arguments, I innately learned to shut up.
During my second semester of college, I had an Education professor who terrified me. She was a sturdy, loud woman who was incapable of keeping her very controversial opinions to herself. It wasn’t until the last couple weeks of class that I realized I needed to gain some participation points, so I finally worked up the courage to raise my hand and respond to one of her questions. I thought the prompt, “What is one thing your field of interest has taught you thus far in your college career?” wasn’t too intimidating and easy enough to answer.
I raised my hand confidently and said, “English has taught me to formulate an opinion.” That is literally all I said. Nothing flowery, nothing winded, just simple and straight to the point.
And what do you think her response to such an innocent answer was? “I’ve never before heard that and I don’t believe that.” Then she launched into some long-winded screed that I honestly don’t remember because I was so embarrassed and devastated. Because of that woman, I vowed to keep my mouth shut for the sake of saving my dignity.
Two years later and I’m again voicing my belief for all to hear that English really has taught me to have an opinion. Although it’s taken me until this semester to shed that woman’s negative response, I’m sticking to my initial argument.
Every single day, professors in my classes hand over the power and allow me to do the talking if I so please. I’m flabbergasted at myself for wasting so much time in my educational experience by not raising my hand and showing all my peers that I’m just as smart as them. I’m positive that if I came across some of my former classmates later in life, they’d be hesitant to strike up a conversation because they likely think I’m a mute. Yet, if they met me today in class they’d realize how funny, witty, smart and extraordinary I am. (Please read that in a slightly sarcastic manner.)
Here’s my word of advice to anyone who cares enough to listen: If you have something to say, then speak up people! I know, super original.
I have many life mottos depending on the day, but that’s the one that sticks with me day in and day out. I kick myself for ever letting people walk over me. I scorn my past self for keeping my mouth shut because my mind would say, “Oh dear me, that girl’s point was clearly much more poignant and elegant and sophisticated than little ole mine could ever be.”
Expressing myself ideologically at the college is level is as important and crucial to me as it is to my peers. Speaking my mind extends well beyond the classroom walls. It extends to the hateful comments littering my social media. Because I am an English major, I’ve learned how to write fluidly, and I can use these skills to formulate an opinionated response to the degrading videos, comments, and posts I see on my Facebook timeline. You bet I wrote a politely scathing post about the video of Donald Trump talking about women vs. Obama.
Voicing my opinion has helped me stand up to acquaintances that constantly bash homosexual people. I’m no longer afraid to respond to their demeaning comments, and I certainly hope that I have planted a grain of truth in their heads. My opinion has also led me to end my friends’ unfortunate use of the word “retard.” Learning to formulate and use my opinion effectively has made me much more involved in social issues, because I now know how to respond to ideologies I disagree with.
I’m unafraid to stand up for the rights of others, because I believe in myself and in my opinions. I know I’m just one little fish in the sea helping lead others to a more accepting and progressive lifestyle, but I know that at least my voice will continue to be heard.