EDITORIAL: Major-induced elitism unjustified, symptom of larger problem

Feelings of superiority based on false pretenses

Tribalism grew from evolution, becoming a critical component of the human psyche. 

Merriam-Webster defines tribalism as “exaltation of the tribe above other groups.” The term “tribe” may seem archaic as both a noun and a concept, but the modern world exalts these group entities with unparalleled participation and ferocity.

People will get tribal over anything and everything, ranging from important aspects of their identities, to the pettiest, most insignificant things. Examples include gender, race, political parties, workplace, religion, sports team, preferred genres of media and in the case of college students, their majors. 

While we have all likely seen examples of the stereotypically annoying, elitist STEM major — even if you happen to be one of them — singling out the mathematically keen would be an oversight. The truth is, you can find students from all majors who compose themselves under a false pretense of intellectual and industrious superiority. 

Addressing STEM specifically, it is true that certain majors tend to lead to better financial outcomes. Denying that would be a denial of reality. Between the ages of 24 to 29, electrical engineering majors will make $72,600 yearly on average, while social workers in that age group take home a comparatively minute $38,400.

Pointing to salaries as an indicator of supremacy ignores several important points.

The banal saying “money cannot buy happiness,” while overused, applies here. Working oneself into a state of despair and misery is not worth the extra money for many. In fact, it is actually uneconomical to do so.

Here is how. An important concept in economics is “opportunity cost,” which is the monetary value of what one gives up while doing or spending money on something else. Someone passionate about, say, literature, would be sacrificing a huge dollar amount of satisfaction if they forced themselves to work in a field they hate. The additional money made yearly would not surpass the monetary value of the happiness they gave up. 

Another reason why students should be hesitant to use salary as the litmus test of value is that majoring in a specific subject does not guarantee success — in fact, it guarantees far from it. 

Let us recede back to the electrical engineering example. If an electrical engineering major was lazy and generally unenthusiastic, would they find themselves generously compensated in an über-competitive workforce? Of course not. 

On the flip side, if a social worker was adept at their job and put in extravagant effort to perform at a high level, they would find themselves with a larger payday than most would presume.

The difficulty of one’s major is also another bargaining chip during these episodes of one-upmanship. Unfortunately for those who boast their major as definitively more rigorous, difficulty is extremely relative. The human brain is a complex and variable organ, and what somebody finds difficult may be a cakewalk for another person. 

STEM majors are not the only people with unjustified, smug superiority. It can be seen all over campus, with students stereotyping the inhabitants of certain majors including, but not limited to, engineering, computer science, gender studies, English and art in often derogatory ways. It goes both ways.

This infighting is useless. The truth is, the world is incredibly interconnected nowadays, especially in workforce-related aspects. All majors benefit from each other. What would YouTube be without creative types pumping out quality content? What would those creative types be without a top-grade platform to upload their works on? 

What would either of those be without the often degree-less electricians who power our society?

If bickering was the sole effect of this caveman-esque tribalism, perhaps it would not be much of an issue at all. After all, people tend to be difficult as a general rule, so it would be nothing new. Unfortunately, in the case of college majors, light jabbering is not tribalism’s only detriment.

It is no secret that women are not accepted by their STEM peers in the workplace. “Women in STEM jobs are much more likely than men in such jobs to say they have experienced discrimination at work due to their gender and to consider discrimination a major reason that more women are not working in STEM," according to Pew Research Center.

A reason why the gender wage gap persists is that women tend to work lower-paying jobs. With the way they are treated in these lucrative STEM fields, it is easy to see why they do. If these tribal barriers to entry remain, how can women with ambitious financial and STEM-oriented goals succeed? 

This piece will certainly not end tribalism, and neither can any sweeping piece of legislation. After all, how do you put an end to one of the most dominant forces in our collective psychological profile? 

In this case, change comes from within. This does not only apply to majors, but with everything we get tribal about. It is important to override our natural tendencies and keep an open mind.

In the words of Rodney King, the man whose brutish treatment sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots: “Can’t we all just get along?”



The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority   of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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