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For the three months leading up to my acceptance to Harvard, I was completely, 100 percent sure I was headed to Yale. During those three months, I spent a lot of time imagining my future in New Haven. One recurrent theme: I would double major in something in the sciences and something in the humanities. The idea of double majoring was exciting; I enjoyed everything I was doing in high school, and I loved not having to choose just one path forward.
Then I chose Harvard. The only disappointment was that Harvard had joint, rather than double, concentrations. I knew how difficult it would be to blend science and humanities concentrations into a single cohesive thesis, a requirement of Harvard’s joint concentration program.
So I didn’t even try. I had more experience in the humanities, which seemed like a natural place to start at a new school. I took four humanities courses my freshman fall and fell in love with the History and Literature concentration. I was happy; I had a path.
Until I didn’t.
I rediscovered my interest in science this past summer and fall. I found myself wondering why I had needed to rediscover it, why I had ever stopped taking science classes in the first place, why I hadn’t taken them as a freshman at Harvard. As a senior in high school, I had particularly enjoyed a Molecular Biology Research class and told people I was considering doing an MD/PhD. Four months later when I arrived at Harvard, the possibility of pursuing that path was no longer on my mind.
I needed a path that was different from what Harvard offered me. I needed Harvard to show me that there was a purpose and place for my dual interest in science and the humanities. I needed Harvard to show me that it was possible to read Catullus and make pedigree charts, to study the historiography of the Civil War and find the pH of a solution, at the same time.
But instead, the implicit message I got from Harvard was that I either had to choose one, or combine both. So I chose one.
I want to be clear: I do not regret my choice. If I could go back and redo it, I would still make the same decision. I just wish I could have done it alongside science courses.
You must be thinking: No one restricted your ability to take both humanities and science classes. You could have tried it. You should have tried it.
And you’re right. I should have.
But I was 18 years old. When I selected my courses for freshman fall, I had lived away from home for a total of five days in my entire life. I didn’t know how to do this whole “college” thing yet. I looked to my institution to guide me, to show me what was possible, to provide a path forward.
And when the path that Harvard provided looked different than the one I had imagined, I figured I was the one with impractical ideas. A policy permitting double concentrations would send a very specific — and much needed — message to students like me who are interested in multiple subjects and are wondering whether it is possible to simultaneously study the humanities and STEM.
Faculty critics of the proposal for double concentrations have suggested that double concentrations will just be another source of stress and pressure on students, who will feel like they have to get that extra line on their resume if provided the opportunity to do so. We may be young enough to need our institution to provide us a path forward, but we don’t need to be protected from our own ambition. That feels infantilizing; that’s not your role. Provide opportunity; don’t take it away.
Yes, some students may feel that pressure, but an institution like Harvard, which is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge at the highest levels, should not be basing institutional decisions on the fact that there may be a few students here for the wrong reasons. You should be creating policies to help students who are hungry for knowledge, who are curious and excited to explore the liberal arts — students who love learning and want to know that there is a place for them and their interests at this institution.
If the faculty ratifies the current proposal for double concentrations, I’m excited to declare a second concentration in Human Developmental & Regenerative Biology. But it’s too late for this policy change to have its full impact on me. Because to me, the purpose of this policy is not an extra line on my resume. The purpose of this policy lies in what it tells 18-year-olds who are curious and hungry and excited to explore Harvard about the possibilities that exist here, who need to see that what they seek in their Harvard education is possible and institutionalized.
To the faculty with a vote on the policy: Give the next generation of science-loving humanists, and humanities-loving scientists, a path forward. Give us a tangible acknowledgement that we don’t have to change, that we can and will be able to do both concurrently. Show us this when we are impressionable 18-year-olds, new to Harvard and to adulthood, and then let us experience the profound intellectual discovery that will follow.
Very infrequently does such a simple policy change have the potential for such a significant positive impact on students. Vote in favor of the proposal for double concentrations. Give students another path forward and 50 years from now, your decision will still be having an impact.
Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23-’24, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History and Literature concentrator in Adams House.
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