You’ve probably read columns about it before, and you’ve most likely run into the debate at least one time while being at Duke: which students are “smarter”? Trinity Arts and Sciences students or Pratt Engineering students? An age-old question that invades our lives and affects our conversations and relationships with other students. Let’s break it down.
We have the Trinity students, which encompasses a great mass of very diverse individuals, each with a unique and different idea of what academic fields they wish to pursue. These include your physics majors, your political science majors, your public policy majors, your English majors, you name it.
Then there are your Pratt students, “Pratt stars” even, a smaller subset of students but is nonetheless just as diverse as the students studying in Trinity. You have your mechanical engineers, your civil engineers, your biomedical engineers, and more. These are the students overloading in all the math classes, sciences, constantly in labs, and building things in class (not to say Trinity kids don’t do this, but these kids live and breathe this lifestyle).
So, who’s “smarter”? Who has the toughest workload? (I place particular emphasis on the latter question because most students act as if the difficulty of their course load is the sole measure of their intellectual capacity). Considering the factors of course content and course difficulty, answering the question gets tricky. Since Trinity contains so many students, some students are instantly given more value as an intellectual since they partake in courses that are perceived as more difficult. Pre-med students get a free pass on any judgement, any science or math majors are free of ridicule, and those computer science kids are always working (don’t even get me started on the finance students). So, what’s left? Of course, the humanities and social sciences.
Due to how Duke students weigh the relevance and importance of our academic pursuits, the Trinity and Pratt feud really comes down to a rivalry between the humanities/social sciences against STEM. We live in society where science and technology industries are expanding rapidly, increasing the demand for educated people in these fields. A side effect of this societal change is that dismissal, or diminution of individuals pursuing their education in other the academic fields. Therefore, humanities/social science students may have their studies view as “not being as difficult, as challenging, or as important” than their STEM counterparts.
I wish I could count all of the snickers, side-eyes, or even the sighs of jealousy when I tell people that I have an “easy” major, an “easy” major being anything that isn’t STEM. I am then subjected to the classic rant about how much work Pratt is, or the rigor of organic chemistry, or how someone stayed up past 3 a.m. finicking with their code that wouldn’t work. At the end of the day it’s always the same: I just wouldn’t understand; I’m only a humanities student.
A majority of the time, these comments and debates are mostly in jest. I have had multiple of friends who sarcastically berate me about how difficult it is to be a STEM student. Most of the time we all laugh about it, and I retort something about them not being able to write an essay or read a book all the way through. It’s all in good humor, most of the time.
But then there are times when the comments devolve and become more passive aggressive. Those are when the side eyes and “huhs” come into play. The same question, in some form of fashion, is asked: “but, like, what do you do most of them time? Just sit around reading and talking?” which equates my collegiate studies to that of a neighborhood book club. Sometimes it rubs me the wrong way because they are people here at Duke who really feel superior to Trinity students, particularly to students studying within the social sciences/humanities.
It is in these times that I feel the need to write this column. Even though we all love to joke around and make sardonic comments about the untouchable status of STEM students or their set-in-stone career paths, I think these jokes are deeply rooted into something toxic: that being, an actual sense of academic classism —a systematic and rigid societal structure placing certain individuals higher on a perceived intellectual level than others. This isn’t a shocking notion to bring up, considering how STEM professions are much more highly valued in society in comparison to professions in the humanities. Doctors, engineers, computer science professionals all earn much higher salaries than professors, publishers, historians or other professions within the world of humanities, which skews the perceived importance of these individuals (social sciences have a bit of leeway due to the prestige behind being a politician, lawyer, etc. but are still subjected to the same prejudice). Yet, this division within the Duke undergraduate population sabotages the unity Duke so desperately wants to have. Additionally, it is problematic that we as Duke students decide to group the largest undergraduate school together and socially position them below the other school.
I’m not here to answer the question as to whether not Pratt students are more capable, more intelligent, or more accomplished than Trinity students, or vice versa; I’m here to dissolve the question completely. We are all here at Duke University together. We all worked day and night throughout high school to optimize our academic performance, leading us to an elite university. There is no reason to claim any one student is any less intellectual or capable than another.
Duke is hard, and it’s hard for everyone. We are constantly stressed out with the amount of work we have to accomplish. Whether it be a 15-20-page essay due tomorrow, a week-long econ problem set to finish, a physics test worth 20 percent of your grade, a policy memo you’ve revised nine times, or anything else, we are working extremely hard. It is essential to be proud of your specific skill set and your accomplishments. Don’t diminish, or let others diminish, the value of all the work that you’ve completed so far. Instead, listen to one another as they share their perspectives. From here, we can learn more about each other’s strengths and weakness so we can see each other as the intelligent people we are.
Cliff Haley is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.
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Cliff Haley is a trinity first-year. His column runs once monthly.