Considering that we’re in the midst of SOHOP season, ye olde “Why Hopkins”-focused blog feels especially appropriate today. It also coincides with the generally grateful feeling I’ve had this semester — specifically, gratefulness for my English major and for the people in it.
When I was a freshman, I thought I wanted a huge community in my major, and I thought I wanted obvious prestige. The Writing Seminars at Hopkins were just that for an indecisive 17-year-old human who walked out of high school saying, “I loved AP English! But who knows!” It’s one of the larger humanities majors on campus, and moreover, to the general population, it’s instantly recognizable. IFP I & II are the go-to intro level humanities class for many a sciences student, while the idea of writing 8 page analytical essays on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tends to fall to the wayside. The Writing Seminars at Hopkins is an amazing program, don’t get me wrong; but I’d like to write about how crucial the smaller humanities departments are to the strength of Hopkins as a liberal arts institution. It took me three semesters to realize how much I was craving the personalized attention and classmate familiarity of a smaller major, especially at a school where science is stereotyped to be king.
In a typical English seminar class at Hopkins, there are usually about 10 people. It can last between one to two and a half hours, and you get to know each other’s brains freakishly well. This will sound cheesy, but bear with me: it ends up being a sacred, even vulnerable sort of space where conversations about plot points turn into longform idea experiments. You’re expected to do more than simply notetake and nod your head: rather, you’re to actively listen and construct arguments in tandem with your classmates — teamwork, if you will. Yes, it’s exhausting, and yes, you’ll be contradicted and pressed about your points (it’s sacred, not utopian). But you finish the semester having learned to think differently than you had before. You’ve crafted so many verbal assertions and written so many papers and been edited on both your speech and your writing that inevitably, something in you shifts: you are a more thoughtful speaker, writer, and overall human person than you were before, because you were in a village of ten people vigorously analyzing works of literary art for three months straight. Your professor knows you by name, and inevitably, class-specific inside jokes will be rampant. If the class is good (which it probably will be), it’ll feel like an entire era of your life.
This is how I feel about my three upper-level English classes this semester, it’s how I felt exactly a year ago when I first switched majors, and I expect it’s how I’ll feel as I roll through my final semester a year from now. The major is small, the classes are smaller, and so purely on a numbers level, we’re beat. But in terms of true impact, in terms of the equally passionate fellow majors you collaborate with in class and the professors who are down to spend an hour after class talking about that one freakishly good essay Virginia Woolf wrote on George Eliot, who will call you out on lazily misusing the word ‘inherently’ because they care about language just as much as you do — in all of these terms, the small humanities at Hopkins are what make it truly great. I only wish I’d realized it sooner, but for now, I’ll make the most of the time I have left.