Guest Post by Dr. Christine Schott: Why the Humanities (Still) Matter

This piece by Assistant Professor of English Dr. Christine Schott appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Inside Erskine magazine. We think she makes a compelling case for why the humanities continue to be relevant to today’s college students.

Dr. Schott visited the Isle of Skye this summer as part of her ongoing research into medieval manuscripts and texts.

Dr. Schott visited the Isle of Skye this summer as part of her ongoing research into medieval manuscripts and texts.

English majors dread being asked what they will do with their degree. Literature professors always say, “You can do anything with an English degree,” and that’s true. But it leaves English majors with no clear path into any one field.

This apparent disconnect between degree and career path applies to almost all of the humanities majors—what do you do with a B.A. in history, religion, or philosophy? This has led a practical-minded, vocal sector of the public to question the value of the humanities and even of the liberal arts in general. But as a literature professor, I continue to believe that the humanities are not only still relevant in today’s world but may be more important than ever.

English majors, for example, graduate with skills vital to success in any number of fields. They learn, most importantly, to write cogently and communicate clearly both in speech and in print. They learn to look beyond surface rhetoric to analyze motives, biases, and far-reaching implications of what seem at first to be simple situations.

These students learn to synthesize information, reconcile conflicting viewpoints, and think outside the box; in other words, they become problem solvers. Despite recent negative press about the humanities, both media and employers are gradually coming forward to point out that humanities majors are desirable in a wide variety of fields—especially in leadership—because they have these vital transferrable skills.

But humanities majors have more to offer the world than their services as employees. I point out to my students that studying literature makes them better consumers (because they learn to recognize bias in advertisement), better citizens (because they learn to cut through political rhetoric), and better human beings (because they learn what it actually means to be human).

Find yourself thinking the poor are just lazy and ignorant? Read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Having a hard time understanding why anybody would hold to a system of beliefs different from yours? Read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Think technology alone has the potential to solve the world’s problems? Read just about anything by Orson Scott Card or Ray Bradbury — or for that matter, watch the Terminator movies; film and literature are just different forms of the same endeavor.

Reading literature changes us: it might make us angry by exposing injustices that we had previously been able to ignore, or it might make us uncomfortable by challenging our assumptions about right and wrong, “us” and “them,” but it makes it impossible for us to stay the same. Once you see the humanity of people you had never thought about before, it becomes a lot harder to hate them. And when it becomes harder to hate, then it becomes easier to care. And if there’s one thing this war-torn, contentious world has too few of, it is people who care for others, even those they do not know, simply because we are all human.

I am not saying that every student should be an English or humanities major; not everyone enjoys history or literature (a fact that continues to mystify me, although I may be a little biased). But for those students whose souls are called out of their bodies by beautiful words, for those who forget to eat because they are so deeply involved in a history book, or for those who forego sleep because they’re asking the big questions that were raised in their philosophy class, it would be a shame to abandon what they love simply because someone else has told them it isn’t “relevant.”

The truth is that a humanities education is beneficial in every life calling, from stay-at-home parent to president of the United States.

English majors do not need to defend their course of study to make it relevant; it already is. And they do not need to change their major to be employable; they only need to augment it. There is no fundamental conflict between the humanities and “practical” education. In fact, in the coming generation, I hope we will see the liberal arts increasing in cultural and market value as employers, educators, and students alike recognize how much the world still needs the humanities.

The Misadventures of a Scatter-Brained Sophomore

This story is a shout out to all the students who feel like they’re scrambling to just survive the endless world of tests, papers, and studying. I’m right there with you. This is only one of many accounts that shows how untogether my life truly is. Hopefully you’ll find a degree of encouragement and humor somewhere in this event.

My story begins at a table in Snappers, Erskine’s greasy, delicious substitute to the cafeteria. After a long day of classes and labs, my friends and I treated ourselves to some much-needed comfort fries. That was the last time I remembered seeing my wallet.

Flash forward to my room after dinner. My roommate and I had some time and energy to burn, so naturally we had a Disney dance party, where we discovered our ability to perform ballroom dancing in tight quarters. I was so excited about dancing that I threw my backpack and jacket onto my bed and leapt into action. After the dance party, we settled down into our normal studying routine.

The next morning, while I was rifling through my backpack for my student ID, I realized that my wallet was missing. Normally I would pack everything into my backpack the night before class, but I had stayed up so late studying that I went straight to bed without bothering to pack up my things. Obviously losing one’s wallet and all of its contents is kind of a big deal, so I started searching around campus as soon as I could. I tried to recall the last place I remembered holding my wallet, but of course that memory was blocked. Go figure.

My wallet hadn’t been put in any of Erskine’s lost and found boxes, so by this point, I was pretty freaked out. As I ran (and I mean literally ran) around the Erskine campus, hoping the wallet was somewhere in the grass, a horrifying thought entered my mind. What if I accidentally threw my wallet in the trash at Snappers while I was throwing away everybody’s trash? I immediately returned to Snappers and asked if I could dig through the trash, despite still being dressed up from having lunch with a prospective student. However, Sue, my friend who works at Snappers, wasn’t about to let me root around in the trash, and she voluntarily dug through three bags of trash before reporting that there was no way my wallet could be there.

With steadily increasing anxiety, I walked across campus to my room (by this time, I was out of breath from running) and proceeded to tear apart every inch of the room in search of the wallet. I tore everything off of my bed, ripped out all of the clothes in my dresser and wardrobe, and threw everything out of my desk. The wallet was nowhere to be found. A ray of inspiration hit me as I sat on the floor in despair. I remembered helping Daria carry clothes up from her car last night. Did I take my wallet with me for some odd reason? A new wind hit me and I sprinted out the door and down the hill to her car, but the wallet wasn’t underneath, nearby, or inside her van. As I walked up to my dorm room, I felt more discouraged and stressed than I had felt in a while. Losing a wallet seems like a small problem now, but it did was a tremendous toll on my emotions at the time. It’s extremely frustrating to not be able to find something that is lost. Then, when I walked through the door to my room, I saw it. My wallet had been hanging on a thumbtack on my corkboard this entire time.

This is proof that putting things away in their proper place is dangerous and wrong. Just kidding.

Long story short, my life is definitely not all together. I’m clumsy, forgetful, easily stressed, and my short-term memory is completely worthless. So how do I make it through each day’s problems and mistakes with a smile and the energy to face another day? God opens my eyes to see and give thanks for the everyday blessings and joys that can shine through the blunders. Today, God answered my desperate, freaked out prayers to simply find my wallet. He provided support from amazing friends like Sue, who cheerfully picked through trash in order to help me. That kind of love still overwhelms me. It’s such a huge relief that my weaknesses can be blessings in disguise by causing the strengths and goodness of others to shine out.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10


A New View of Orientation

This past weekend, I had the privilege of experiencing Erskine’s Orientation through the eyes of a group leader instead of as a freshman. I was chosen to be an Orientation leader in April, so I spent all summer imagining what my time as a leader would be like and what Orientation would be like as a whole. Needless to say, quite a few expectations accumulated in my mind by the end of the summer. But in order to share my expectations, I first need to tell you the reasons behind my desire to work on the Orientation staff. My reasons were threefold: to make Orientation fun for freshmen, to get a head start on making new friends, and to get more involved at Erskine, because I honestly just love my college. My motives behind Orientation became my expectations for Orientation. Thus, I envisioned a whole new group of friends, the feeling of satisfaction from executing a successful Orientation, and the gradual acclimation to a busy school year at Erskine.

I moved into Erskine a week before the freshmen moved in and immediately began training and preparing for the busiest week of the school year (in my opinion). Everyone on O Staff was exhausted by the Monday before Move In Day, but we pushed through our fatigue and mustered an amazing amount of energy to get everything squared away before Thursday, when the freshmen arrived. Our fearless leader, Kaley Lindquist, the most detail-oriented person that I have ever met, coordinated every part of the weekend. Orientation would not have been the success that it was if it had not been for her dedication and passion for her job.

Orientation staff and volunteers gathered around Erskine's flagpole on Move In Day morning to pray for Orientation.

Orientation staff and volunteers gathered around Erskine’s flagpole on Move In Day morning to pray for Orientation.

All of the freshmen were split into 12 different groups led by various upperclassmen. My friend Ashley and I were in charge of Group 9; and let me just say that our group was the coolest group ever. Our freshmen had such great attitudes about every activity that we did even though they were just as worn out as we were. For example, the groups competed against each other to get the most Spirit Points by the end of Orientation. Our group ran around the Erskine campus, performing different activities to get thousands of Spirit Points. We bought 40+ cokes for Kaley, gave more than 20 sets of flowers to the sweet lady who scans our cards in the cafeteria, and even chased around various staff members for selfies (I hadn’t ever posted so many pictures on Instagram in four days). Unfortunately, we did not win first place; but, we got second place, which was the closest to first place that a group can get! We did so many activities in the span of 4 days, including, but not limited to, sessions, skits, contests, games, community service, and soiree. I would like to share all of the memories that were created from Orientation, but you would have to read pages of content, which would likely become tedious after a while. Not to mention, Orientation flew by so quickly that it is a bit of a blurred memory now.

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Tug of War at Freshman Frenzy

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Dancing the night away at soiree

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I love All My Neighbors

But, all good things must come to an end, and so Orientation had to as well. As I reflect on the fruits that were produced from Orientation, I find myself pleasantly surprised. I was pushed to be more confident, more friendly, more sacrificing, more patient, more loving…the list can go on and on. I became friendlier as I got to know not only a whole bunch of really awesome freshmen, but also, as I grew closer to my Orientation coworkers. They were my family for a week. I changed from only being good friends with a handful of the upperclassmen to growing closer to each person in different ways. Despite being surrounded by strangers again and feeling exhausted from attending the various events, this year was still much more comfortable and fun! I definitely enjoyed Orientation better as a leader than as a freshman. This year’s Orientation did not just meet all of my expectations; it surpassed them. I would encourage anyone who is considering being a part of Orientation to go for it! Orientation gives students a chance to make an impact on people’s lives and to be impacted by others, which I consider to be a really cool life experience.

The O Staff Family

The O Staff family

Running the Race: the Barn-K for Joy

Some of the things that I appreciate most about Erskine are the ministry opportunities that occur throughout the year. During this past year, students, faculty, and non-Erskinites alike all played parts in benefiting the community, whether by raising money for the American Cancer Society through the Miss Erskine Pageant, by volunteering at an Eagle Scout’s project, or by participating in any other numerous ministry events. For me, the most memorable ministry opportunity of my freshman year will always be the RUF-hosted Barn-K For Joy. The Barn-K for Joy raises money to send a young man to Camp Joy, a camp that is specially designed for people with special needs, through a 3.6 mile race from the Due West sign in Erskine to the barn where RUF meets on Sundays. Paul Patrick, the campus minister at Erskine, finds sponsors who will donate a certain amount of money depending on the number of participants in the race. RUF has been able to send a special young man named Warren Sullivan to Camp Joy for many years, and I think that is one of the most special things about the ministry and about Erskine.

Now, not all people are created equally in the aspect of physical fitness. Take me, for example. I enjoy going on “runs” (much walking occurs), but I am definitely not a “runner.” After I passed the first mile marker on the road, a part of my heart sank because I was so tired and still had more tan two miles left. Other [crazy] people are super fit and love to run, so they leave people (like me) in the dust. Some people hate running with a passion and enjoy a leisurely stroll instead. No matter what category a person falls into, he/she is guaranteed to really enjoy the Barn-K because it’s designed to accommodate to all types of people. Plus, everyone gets rewarded at the end of the race with a buffet of water, fruit, pizza, and snow cones, a super cool t shirt, and an amazing lesson by Paul Patrick!

After telling you about my wimpiness and how tired I was from the race, I would like to say that passing the finish line was the best feeling that I felt that day, but despite a grand feeling of relief and accomplishment, I experienced an even better feeling later on. Warren Sullivan got to come to RUF with some of his friends and caretakers on the day of the race. Warren’s uncontainable excitement was almost tangible as it filled the entire barn. I remember sitting on the hay bale and feeling more joy and thankfulness than I had felt in a long time. This time, my joy did not come from the blessings that God had given me, but from the blessing that God gave to Warren, through us. I was completely overwhelmed because I could almost see Christ lovingly watching Warren, his blessed and beautiful child. The Barn-K for Joy was so aptly named, not just for the camp, but because everyone experienced inexplicable joy as we watched Warren’s reactions to Christ in his life.

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Love Never Fails

Humans are endowed with an innate desire to have all the right answers. This desire can be seen in the first sin, when Eve ate from the tree of good and evil because she desired to be like God, knowing good and evil. However, I think that knowledge is dangerous and hurtful when it is used solely by itself. I, like many other Christians, have often crossed the line between standing up for what we believe and judgmentally pushing what we believe down other people’s throats. Although my intentions are to be God’s minister, I end up being His scourge. I lose sight of Jesus’s fundamental commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It is easy to look past our own sins and to judge the sins of others. It is easy to get angry with those who don’t agree with our opinions. It is easy to lash out at people who seem to be shoving their opinions down our throats. It is easy to forget that our beliefs are tainted with the sin of our human nature and are thus imperfect.

God does not call His children to win arguments with their neighbors in the name of Jesus. He calls us to love our neighbors, whether they are friends, enemies, or anything in between. Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians that if we “can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” or “have a faith that can move mountains,” but lack love, then we have nothing. That statement is pretty humbling for me because I easily forget to be patient and kind. I tend to envy other people’s talents while still boasting in my own. I put others down in order to build myself up. I refuse to forgive and forget. I give in to the temporary satisfaction of evil, and I cover up the truth. I fail at loving God and loving others on an every day basis. I can see the significance of love from the effects of my imperfect love and the effects of God’s unconditional love. That’s what makes me so thankful for and dependent on God’s love.

Love is super hard, but God promises that it never fails. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. I strongly believe that if we humble ourselves and love others, despite their different beliefs, opinions, and preferences, then we will flourish. I am proud to be an Erskine student. I am thankful that I attend a Christian school that holds to Christian standards while desiring to “show hospitality and respect to all members of its community,” and to “treat all persons justly with grace, dignity, and compassion in the Spirit of Christ.”

What I Expect From Erskine

Well, I am now in my second semester at Erskine so I must have a pretty good grip on college life, right? I make decent grades. I know how, when, and where to study. I have that stable friend group. I can handle anything that Erskine throws at me. HA. That’s laughable. In the past seven months that I’ve been at Erskine, I may have learned how to thoroughly analyze Brownings’ “My Last Duchess,” participate in a handbell choir, and even carry a decent conversation in Spanish, but I still don’t know squat. Honestly, the more I learn about something, the more I realize how little I actually know. The only reasons that my ignorance doesn’t totally frustrate me are the reality that I don’t need to know everything and the faith that I have in Erskine’s ability to prepare me for entering “the real world” by the time I graduate.

After I graduate, I want to head off to graduate school and pursue an M.S. in genetic counseling. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, genetic counseling is the practice of giving advice to families who are worried about the nature, risks, consequences, or treatment of a genetic disorder. My passion for genetic counseling was sparked when I visited a genetic center in Greenwood. During that visit, I toured through various labs and talked to several employees, but was uninterested in any subjects until I talked to the genetic counselor.

Genetic counseling may sound like the most boring job on earth to you, but several aspects of the job appeal to me. As a Christian, I love the counseling part of the job. God has endowed me with a desire to get to know people and to bring out the best in them that I can. I love listening to people’s stories and learning their interests, fears, and opinions. I have always wanted a job that centers itself on helping others. A part of me loves working with people because I want to fix them, which is a desire that can be taken too far if God is shoved out of the picture.  While I know that I cannot cure people’s hearts, minds, or bodies, I am secure in the knowledge that God will use me to serve Him in amazing ways. As a science-lover, I really enjoy learning about genetics and how someone became the person that they currently are. I am a short, squinty, asthmatic Asian and that’s all due to genes (thanks, Mom and Dad..).

I am the kind of person who needs to have a plan if I want to be able to move forward. Becoming a genetic counselor may not be in God’s plan for me and I am open to change, but right now in my life, I have a goal to work towards. Part of the reason that I came to Erskine is because I expect to graduate from Erskine feeling ready to take on whatever challenges come before me. I fully believe that Erskine will supply me with the knowledge that I will need to succeed in graduate school, the faith that I will need endure trials in the world, and other important life skills.

What do you expect from a college?

Day One as a Choraleer: the almost end of my academic journey

One of my favorite scenes in The Holiday is when Jack Black’s character, Miles, says to Iris, played by Kate Winslet,

“Iris, if you were a melody…(insert a beautiful, soothing melody here) I used only the good notes.”

That’s how I had always viewed music, the good notes that live and breathe and play to describe people’s lives and situations. It was something easy, soothing, soul thrilling, and life-inspiring. All that was ever required of me was to hear a song, listen to it, fall in love with it, and then sing it. Nothing more and definitely nothing less. Until I walked into Erskine Choraleers, Fall of 2010, unawares and unarmed-who knew you needed a pencil for music?

A seat was assigned, a pack of music was handed to me, and in walked a man who would forever change not only my life but the way I viewed and interpreted music. The memory, though present, is slightly blurred. He held a pencil in hand and commanded us to stand. “Open your pack and pull out….” all I heard was Bach. That sounded familiar. Glancing to my right I watched to see which piece of music my fellow alto selected and did the same. Then I made the terrible mistake of opening the piece to reveal a sheet of paper on which an enormous ant hill had exploded. I’m sad to inform there were no survivors.

“Alright then…shall we sing?”


Where was the music? You know, the part where I get to hear what I’m singing before I’m forced to sing it? Lost, disoriented, freaked out…are just a few words deemed worthy of describing how I felt.

“And if you will please in measure — that is a carry over, thank you.”

Carry over? Leaning over and whispering barely above a breath, I asked the alto to my right, “What’s a carry over?” I will never forget her reaction for it was the disbelief in her jaw drop, the roll of her eyes, and the sad truth in her voice that made me feel inadequate and unworthy.

“You don’t know what a carry over is?”

She made it sound so simple, so easy. My ignorance of sight reading could be overlooked, but not having the capability to understand a carry over was unacceptable! I was unfit to be in the same room as the rest of them; I did not deserve the title of Choraleer.

Rehearsal ended and I found myself sitting on one of the many swings afforded to us on campus, calling my mother, crying and admitting the following:

I’m just going to pack up and come home, Mama. I can’t read music…I didn’t even know what a CARRY OVER is! 

And, my mother in her wisdom asked me one simple question, “Why did you go to Erskine?”

Amid sobs, To learn music.

“And what did you learn today?”

Amid sobs with a smile, What a Carry Over is. *chuckle*

“And what will you learn tomorrow?”

Well, tomorrow and every day after that I learned that music is more than a melody we love and cherish. It is a full time commitment to a level of excellence that only a few get to experience much less achieve. Sometimes music isn’t only about “the good notes.” Sometimes they are sad, minor, dreadful moments of dissonance that collide, crash, and magically resolve. Sometimes music must first make us feel lost before we can be found.

Time hop to a small yet adequate Chorus Room at Newberry High. A young man walks in, a new student! He is joining my 8B and is looking forward to making music. Then I hand him a copy of the piece we are working on. He was lost, disoriented, and reminded me a lot of day one almost five years ago. “So,(student name), tell me, how lost and inadequate do you feel?” He replied, “Very.” I smiled, “Good!” Confused, he asked, “Good?” Opening the sheet music I replied, “Yes…Good. Because the lost can always be found. Now…this is known as a staff and these are clefs.The treble clef….”

Life lessons learned at Erskine that have managed to find their way into the new steps my life has taken. Day one as a Chorus Teacher felt very much like day one as a Choraleer: the almost end of my journey….almost.