“About Being Human”, Jose Aranda, English

We ask all the hard questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s the quality of life? What makes a good society? All those classical questions still are appropriate. At the same time, I think what we should be doing at the School of Humanities is saying: learn more languages. Don’t be comfortable with only one language. If you are comfortable with two languages, find a third.   It’s about interacting with the world or the people you come in contact with. It’s so surprising what you can learn from people who are different from you. So we need to be teaching more languages, we need to be sending students to study abroad. We need to internationalize our faculty but I also think we need to have more underrepresented domestic faculty.  Humanities can teach us about having fun: what is the good life? Why is something funny? Why does irony work? The whole idea of comedy is not something you learn or think about when you are a chemical engineer. I’m sure they have fun, but it’s not in the curriculum to have fun. The humanities are about being human in the end.  Perhaps for a first-world nation, the humanities are at a historic low point. It doesn’t seem to be something that can get you a job. People ask if you read Descartes or Sartre or Kierkegaard or Jane Eyre, I mean, that’s all nice, but what are you going to do with your life? And this is a good question if you are an English major, Philosophy major, etc.   But the other thing I tell students that’s important is your life isn’t just the first ten years after Rice. Your life is the next…60 years after Rice. For four years, you really have a chance to open up your mind unless you go to graduate school. So when you are in your late seventies, eighties, what are you going to want to talk about, engage with, look at? You’re not always going to be on top of a rocket ship or an oil refinery or underneath some kind of fancy sea-lab. What are you going to be doing? How will you understand yourself when you are seventy-five?