Coming to UNH, I expected many things. Almost all of them proved to be wrong. When I first arrived to UNH my freshman year I hadn’t a clue as to what my major would be. I can clearly remember freshman orientation. I was put in a room with all the other undeclared liberal arts majors trying to decide whether history or political science or English would be the way to go. I sat there, in a hot and crowded Hamilton Smith room with not the faintest idea as where I’d go with my career here.
I guessed that I would cast a wide net and see where that would take me. Three years and many changes to my major later, my personal thoughts on how I spent my time here have brought me to this conclusion: liberal arts is crucial to an education. Through all of my studies and my meandering path to a major in journalism, I have stuck to the mantra that as a society we need to invest our minds and money into liberal arts. Society is founded on the arts and it will continue to be.
Currently, I am enrolled in a class called Introduction to Post-Colonial Literature. I remember looking for my post-1800 literature course requirement for my journalism major and seeing the dozens of potential classes. The problem I had was that they were overwhelmingly European and American based. I wanted an experience outside the West; not to be politically correct and fulfill some half-assed attempt at being open minded. I wanted to learn how other people live. How did a child survive the Partition of India? What are the ramifications of colonialism? What is the religion of Islam really like? I didn’t want to read an article on The Atlantic by Graeme Wood, I wanted someone who had really been there. Someone who had lived and fought, and failed or succeeded.
I believe that in the current political climate when politicians are speaking of boarders and walls, we should be reading and talking about the exact places we don’t know anything about. Does Trump, Cruz, Clinton, Sanders or Kasich really understand the unique history and background of the places they either want to connect or disconnect from? I find it troubling that our leaders continue to have this Western and Eurocentric outlook on a world that is so diverse and changing all the time.
If we want to address the problems of Muslim isolation in the Western world, the migration crisis, feuds between countries and all of the most pressing geopolitical issues of our time, I believe it is intrinsic that we have a more well-rounded education. If the politicians won’t do it, it’s up to us. We have the real power anyway. We just have to find it.
Immanuel Kant, one of the most important Western philosophers of the Enlightenment spoke to the issue of cosmopolitanism. He urged that education should emphasize the cultivation of a moral sense and rational action to be directed beyond the borders of one’s own country. Now obviously this didn’t transpire too much in reality, but I think the goal of global citizenship and having a comprehension of cultures and histories is paramount to learning and growing.
I advocate for the liberal arts and, more importantly, cultural studies because it broadens empathy and challenges notions that we hold dearly. I can remember sitting in a world history class thinking one thing about Islam and then the professor started talking about the Quran and I walked out of the class completely transfixed on the fact that I really had no inkling on the subject. Before that lecture I was coming from a place of ignorance, but afterwards I declared to know more. It can be a snap shot into another world, or a long-term investigation, becoming that global and local citizen is paramount for us as Americans and as human beings.
UNH does offer a range of classes to take on race, sexuality, gender and ethnicity, but none are mandatory. To foster an up-and-coming generation of workers and voters, I believe UNH needs to widen the types of classes all students need to take. We aren’t here just to be consumers and get our diploma. I think we are here to challenge ourselves intellectually and culturally. By introducing a cultural studies credit that mandates every student take a class that focuses on the history or literature of other countries, I believe we will be introducing a new generation that can make this world a little more tolerant and a little more enlightened.
Mark Kobzik is a junior
majoring in English/ journalism. Follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkKobzik