You’re majoring in WHAT?: Who Gets to Study the Liberal Arts

“So, what’s your major?” I get this question often despite having just started my freshman year at Wake Forest. Whether it’s a dinner with my extended family or a grocery store run-in with my parents’ friends, the question somehow pops up. After being asked several times, I crafted a standard response: “I’m not sure yet, but I’m thinking something in the humanities, maybe English.” This response has been met with everything from enthusiasm to surprise to blatant distaste, the “Wow… very cool!” to the sarcastic “I hear that’s where the money is!” Relatives are often bewildered that with the price of a college education, I want to pursue such an “impractical” course of study. Although justifying my choice so frequently can be irritating, I understand people’s skepticism. With a tuition exceeding $60,000 per year, it’s hard not to look at my education through a cost-benefit lens and to question its real world value.

Because of the perceived impracticality of a liberal arts degree, some feel that the liberal arts are only for the wealthiest students, those who do not have to worry about securing a job when they graduate. Although a liberal arts education has historically been accessible to only a small sliver of society, students of all socioeconomic classes can derive the same benefit from an education in the humanities. Unfortunately, with skyrocketing college tuitions and greater emphasis on the liberal arts in high schools that can afford to do so, studying the liberal arts is far more feasible for economically advantaged students than it is for their less privileged peers. In order to close this gap, we must address how to improve access, affordability, and the quality of the information on the benefits of a liberal arts education. We must market liberal arts degrees as valuable both to the degree-holder and to our society at large.

Before evaluating the accessibility and benefits of a liberal arts education, it is important to establish what the liberal arts are. For many of us, the liberal arts call to mind “the humanities,” an education in a wide array of subject matters, or perhaps the cultivation of a well-rounded individual. All of these definitions are a part of the liberal arts education. In his essay, “Why the Liberal Arts Still Matter,” American writer and scholar Michael Lind suggests that “the tradition of liberal education in Europe and the Americas is a synthesis of several elements: nonspecialized general education; an emphasis on a particular set of scholarly disciplines, the humanities; and acquaintance with a canon of classics” (Lind, 52). Thus, a liberal arts education is a broad education in the humanities with an emphasis on the study of certain classic texts.

Who Studies the Liberal Arts?

Having attended a boarding school with students from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, I observed the effect that my classmates’ economic statuses had on what they chose to study in college. While the majority of my classmates from wealthy families with parents who attended top universities tended to choose history or classics, most of my less advantaged classmates opted to pursue degrees in business or STEM fields. Although neither path is inherently better than the other, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were making our own choices about what to study or if socioeconomics and parental guidance were playing a larger role than our own interests were.

My good friend Electra comes from a wealthy New York City family. Her father works in finance and her mother works in the art industry. Her parents met at a small liberal arts college in Connecticut. Electra grew up attending art exhibitions with her mother. She plans to study art history at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. In high school, her parents encouraged her to “follow her dreams” and “find her passion” rather than worrying about money. On the other end of the spectrum, my friend Emilio, also from New York City, comes from a working class family. Both of his parents are immigrants from Paraguay. His parents encouraged him to “study hard” and “get good grades” in high school so that he could attend college and secure a stable job upon graduation. He plans on studying business at a large public university. The majority of my classmates followed this trend. The “Electras” flocked to the liberal arts, while the “Emilios” gravitated toward STEM majors and business.

This polarization in my classmates’ courses of study can be attributed to two main factors: affordability and upbringing. For wealthy students, cost is not a factor. They do not have to worry about paying off student loans and they may have family money or connections in a particular industry to fall back on. Less privileged students lack this safety net and must assess, based on the information available to them, what major will provide job security post-graduation. The issue of exposure to the liberal arts is closely linked to socioeconomic status. In his aptly named Atlantic article, “Rich Kids Study English,” Joe Pinsker suggests that “there is…a possibility that children from higher-income families [are] more exposed to the sorts of art, music, and literature that colleges deem worthy of study, an exposure that might inspire them to pursue those subjects when they get to college” (Pinsker). Perhaps parents who have been fortunate enough to experience the value of a liberal arts education for themselves are more likely to instill a love of literature or history in their own children. Maybe they raise their children in areas with good school systems in which there is enough funding to focus on the humanities in addition to the science and math courses that our government and education system recommend. This earlier familiarization with the humanities undoubtedly makes a liberal arts education more easily accessible for wealthy students.

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

In order to improve accessibility, the rhetoric around the cost of a liberal arts education, by policymakers and commentators, needs to change. Just recently, on a trip to Wisconsin, President Obama remarked, “folks can make a lot more, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree” (Postrel). Although his comment was intended to assure young people that college is not the only path to success, it still diminishes the money-making potential of liberal arts graduates in the eyes of a public that is evermore money-minded. Carol Gary Schneider, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, conducted a study to disprove the “comments made by ill-informed commentators and policymakers who paint a misleading picture of the value of a liberal arts education” (Johnson). The study found that “college graduates in all fields see their salaries increase significantly over time” and that in general, college graduates, no matter their major, earn much more money than non-graduates do (Johnson). The study also addressed the common misconception that graduating liberal arts majors are unemployable and bound to end up moving back in with mom and dad. According to AAC&U, “the unemployment rate for recent liberal arts graduates is 5.2 percent” and for mature workers with liberal arts degrees (41-50) [it is] 3.5 percent- just .04 percent higher than the rates for those with a professional or preprofessional degree” (Johnson). Contrary to misinformation disseminated by politicians and journalists, liberal arts majors are getting jobs out of college and continuing to be employable into their peak work years. A liberal arts education prepares students for a changing world by equipping them with a broad set of analytical skills rather than a single focus. According to Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “nobody can predict where the jobs will be—not the employers, not the schools, not the government officials who are making such loud calls for vocational training. The economy is simply too fickle to guess way ahead of time, and any number of other changes could roil things as well” (Capelli). The broad knowledge and analytical skills that a liberal arts education provide ensure that students can adapt to these changes and apply their broad skill sets to a variety of careers.

In addition to preparing students to assume positions in various industries rather than just one, a liberal arts education is valuable to our society at large in that it develops citizens with the broad knowledge necessary for civic engagement. Michael Lind, a prominent American writer and scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars states that “the argument for liberal education, from Isocrates and Cicero onward, has been that the leaders of society, even if they practice one or another profession, need to be ­well-­rounded, ­well-­informed generalists if they are to make sound decisions in public and private life” (Lind, 58). A liberal arts education, earlier referred to as a “gentleman’s education,” for giving students the broad knowledge and skills necessary for civic engagement. A man well-versed in rhetoric, history, literature, and politics could contribute to his government and society effectively. According to the aforementioned study by the AAC&U, “liberal arts graduates disproportionately pursue social services professions” (Johnson); although these professions may be less lucrative, they play necessary roles in communities. Social workers, counselors, and psychologists make critical contributions to healthcare, education, and the general welfare of our population. Other common professions for liberal arts graduates, like teaching and non-profit administration, can impact communities directly and profoundly. By improving access to the liberal arts, we can ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to pursue careers that have such a deep-seated impact on their communities.

Improving Access

In his Forbes piece “Liberal Arts vs. STEM: The Right Degrees, the Wrong Debate,” Sergei Klebnikov, a former classmate of mine and a history and international relations major at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, argues that we must not see the liberal arts and STEM as mutually exclusive. He addresses the collaborations occurring between the liberal arts and STEM fields at universities and suggests that we stop focusing on the differences between the two and start focusing on how we can integrate them. Although integrated curriculums would undoubtedly help introduce the liberal arts to students without much background in it, we must first address the gap in accessibility. Klebnikov mentions institutions like Lafayette College, a private liberal arts institution that includes a liberal arts requirement for its engineers; however, the real issue lies in the reality that few students can afford to attend Lafayette. If engineering colleges can infuse the liberal arts into their curriculums and liberal arts college, we can close some of this gap. If we can ensure that high school students are educated as to the actual benefits and drawbacks of the liberal arts versus other more “practical” degrees, we can deemphasize upbringing as a factor. Finally, and most challengingly, if colleges take steps to make education affordable, students will be able to base their decisions on what to study on personal interests rather than cost.

In “Rich Kids Study English,” Joe Pinsker argues that upon close inspection, “college majors and occupations start to look more and more like easily-interpreted, if slightly crude, badges doled out to people based on the wealth and educational status of the parents they were born to” (Pinsker). Obviously, this is a simplified and dramatized interpretation of the correlation between socioeconomic factors and college majors; however, in many cases it holds true. In order to make college majors and occupations reflections of young people’s own interests, we must eliminate their parents’ wealth and educational status as factors in their choice.

As a student who is fortunate enough to have received a strong foundation in the humanities in high school and to have the opportunity to study liberal arts in college, I can personally attest to the merit in a liberal arts education. As a nineteen-year-old, I don’t feel prepared to choose one track and stick to it. I am not yet ready to define myself label myself as “engineer” or “accountant.” Although some students my age my be ready to start down a path and stick with it, for those who aren’t, a liberal arts education can be a means of exploring a variety of subjects and eventually specializing in something of significance and interest to them. In addition to allowing me time before choosing a career path, a liberal arts education has allowed me to develop an understanding of myriad subjects: I can hold my own in conversations with adults on topics ranging from World War II history to F. Scott Fitzgerald. When I think about a career path, I see endless options. I have room to explore and to try things and fail. I am grateful for the opportunity that a liberal arts education affords me and hope that institutions, parents, educators, and people can work to open the door to liberal arts to all students. Perhaps liberal arts majors, with their analytical skills, multifaceted worldviews, and understanding of the privileged position that they are in, can collaborate in order to improve the quality of information about the liberal arts and the accessibility of liberal arts degrees for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Works Cited

Capelli, Peter. “Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire.” The Wall Street Journal 15 Nov. 2013. Web 27 Oct 2015.

Johnson, Carrie. “New Report Documents That Liberal Arts Disciplines Prepare Graduates for Long-Term Professional Success.” Association of American Colleges and Universities. Web 22 Jan. 2014.

Klebnikov, Sergei. “Liberal Arts vs. STEM: The Right Degrees, the Wrong Debate.” Forbes 19 Jun. 2015. Web Thur 28 Oct 2015.

Lind, Michael. “Why the Liberal Arts Still Matter.” The Wilson Quarterly. Autumn (2006): 52-58. Print.

Pinsker, Joe. “Rich Kids Study English.” The Atlantic 6 Jul. 2015. Web 27 Oct 2015.

Postrel, Virginia. “Obama Fails Art History and Economics.” Bloomberg View. Web 31 Jan. 2014.


For my friend Sarah’s birthday, we spent the day in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. It was mid-October and thick fog formed a capsule around our car as we sped through the mountains toward our destination. Our Volkswagen hatchback cut ribbons through the powdery smoke and left a billowy sheet trailing behind us for miles. Downtown, we wandered into a candle shop and the signature pumpkin smell of fall immediately greeted us. It was a small, uneven shop with gentle “watch your step” signs posted throughout. In one corner, a white haired man was vigorously dipping a candle in bins of different colored liquids. The candle emerged each time valiantly dressed in a new hue. After each coat, he dipped the candle into a bucket of ice cold water to help it cool and harden. A few tourists crowded around him to watch the process. I wondered if his arms were sore, and why so many people wanted to watch a candle be made. My friends gravitated towards the action and I saw dozens of ceramic-looking candle holders around the craftsman. The crowd seemed to know that the craftsman was performing a preliminary step, not simply dipping a candle in various waxes as I thought. After a few more coats, he held the cylindrical block of wax at shoulder height to let it cool for a few moments. He then reached in his pocket for what appeared to be a dinner knife, only slightly sharper. He made the first incision into the side of the wax and it all made sense; all of the coats of different colored waxes became visible. Six vivid hues spilled out of the wound. His cut sliced down the side of the cylinder at a 30 degree angle and his knife paused about two inches from the bottom of the candle. The thinly sliced section of wax folded over itself and exposed the layers in the center. He repeated this action five more times around the circumference of the candle to create an ornate rim around the bottom, composed of all the sliced pieces. I was amazed at how malleable the wax was, but the artist said he only has about 12 minutes to complete his design because the wax hardens and becomes unworkable after that. The artisan continued to work, using different tools to create exquisite ripples and twists in the once smooth, solid-colored wax. The candle ceased looking like a candle but became an intricate sculpture. The wick was the only evidence of its previous life. Then a horrible thought crossed my mind: “what happens when you burn the candle?” All of his work will be a waste. Thankfully another onlooker asked my question for me and the candle-maker replied that the candle only loses its shape if it burns for more than six hours. His design allows only the center to be burned; the outside remains intact. The inner parts sizzle, but the candle maintains its distinct design; the aesthetic beauty is not compromised. The inside melts more deeply into the form of the candle, becoming more connected, more incorporated into the candle as a whole. They are no longer separate entities, the center and the ceramic outside; they are ultimately the same and heat merely diminishes their difference.

I ended up watching the candle-maker for two hours. He made approximately 6 candles and none of them looked the same, which is the nature of human creation. We are not robots capable of churning out identical products. Although the craftsman follows a formula to make his candles, the strokes of his knife are not always precise. He might cut a centimeter too deep into the wax. Impatiently, he might begin working when the wax is too soft, leaving finger prints and imperfections on his canvas. For these reasons, I cannot decide if human creation is the epitome of humility or hubris. Man is messy, untrustworthy and mistake-prone. Man is innovative, empathetic and resilient. His creations reflect his best and worst qualities. My excruciating awareness of my human nature deters me from reaching and creating. My inaction is not out of humility but out of pride.

But I feel ready to take on my pride at Salem Presbyterian Church. There, I sternly hush my pride like a misbehaving child. Salem Presbyterian Church is the name of the body of believers who gather every Sunday night at 5 PM, but the actual church building is called Green Street United Methodist Church. We do not have a worship space of our own, but we gladly pay a modest rent to gather together at 639 S Green Street. It is located in the West End district of downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I have been attending Salem Presbyterian since last March, and it is now November.

Inside, red carpet covers creaky wood floors. I’m not sure why there is carpet covering up the beautiful wood floors, but maybe it serves as a noise buffer. The building already carries sound so the squeaky floors only add to the noise pollution. The pews don a deep forest green velvet that ages the place 50 years. The thought of a church with the primary colors of red and green seems trite, but their combination is oddly inoffensive. Instead, the color combination allows for a year-long Christmas celebration. There is no center aisle to the church, but is broken up into three sections of pews with two aisles cutting through toward the front. I’ve wondered what weddings look like in this setting, whether the bride must choose an aisle to walk down or a default aisle exists that all brides walk down. I would choose the right aisle because all of the college students sit on the right side of the church. I feel that I belong to that side; when I walk down the aisle I would pound my chest twice with my fist and point to my section as a shout out.

For my entire life, I’ve gone to church in the morning. Sometimes my family felt ambitious and woke up for the 9 AM service, sometimes we slept in and attended the 11 AM service, but either way, church was a Sunday morning activity. I did not think that attending church in the nighttime hours would make such a profound change. And perhaps I am making meaning out of nothing, as I tend to do, but it feels different. The light at 5 PM is unlike light at 9 AM or 11 AM. 5 PM light is subtle and soft and comfortable, whereas 9 AM light is radiant but frequently jarring.

Since I started attending in March, I have witnessed the entirety of spring unfold within the church building. At the onset of spring, the doors are flung open and remain ajar for the entire service. The scent of cherry blossoms fills the room and the startling sound of motorcycles barreling down the street resounds. Once summer begins to set in, the air grows stuffy but not stifling. The weak air conditioner churns out cold air to the best of its ability but sweat is an inevitable reality during the summer services. And fall! The air is turbulent inside the walls of the church as if it’s calling each person to swirl in a great fury with it. People track in leaves on their shoes and they remain littered on the red carpet, not wholly out of place. I have not yet experienced the magic of winter at Salem Presbyterian Church, but it is fast approaching, and I must prepare my heart for amazement. I imagine that people wear their coats during the service on especially chilly evenings. I imagine that “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” sounds different when sung out into still, static-filled air. I imagine that as the darkness sets in early in the evening, the congregation feels a collective nostalgia.

Last week in church I sat thinking about the wonder of walking outside after church and finding snow just starting to dust the ground. I fear I would be overcome. I vowed I would write poetry about that moment, but poetry makes me vastly uncomfortable, because I feel the great need to be understood by a reader. I need to be commended in my literary decisions, else my confidence crumbles. But I cannot think of any other situation which more deserves momentary discomfort. I will take a risk for the snowfall, because it demands it of me. Failing to write poetry about an experience so transcendent is a crime.

So I intend to write three poems about this imminent experience. They will be succinct and masterful and understated and every reader will feel what I felt and they will be published and highly acclaimed. I see that as the only outcome because, again, the situation elicits nothing less than excellence.

I am equally thrilled and terrified for when it snows at approximately 6:30 PM on a Sunday. I don’t know the effects I will suffer. I hope I fall into a faint, and when I wake there are delicate snowflakes on my eyelashes. I hope I awake with words flowing through my head and I write them down exactly as I see them, else they disappear forever. I wish women still fell into faints these days. There is something so frivolous about physically losing consciousness from an experience. I think I would fit in wonderfully in Scarlet O’Hara’s era in Gone with the Wind. Scarlet was a girl who knew how to faint.

The way I see it, the snow is an ordination to go, write, create. But until that very specific event happens I am free to live in apathy and let experiences whiz by me without processing and molding the events with my keyboard. The snowfall will transform me into a writer, whether I like it or not. This singular event will jerk me out of the cloud of doubt I so comfortably abide in. And I do not know which is more terrifying: the snow or the lack of snow. I cannot create my own snow, not the perfect, fiery flakes that melt immediately upon contact with skin. I am completely at the mercy of weather. If I may be so bold, I am at the mercy of God.

I sit down and the chair has spikes on it. My skin crawls at the thought of spreading lines of text on a blank page. The blinking cursor is not an invitation, but a mocking reminder of my fumbling. My friend, Will, once said that he could never be a writer because it is such a solitary experience. He craves interaction and collaboration. No number of editors and revisions can change the fact that it is only me and the spastic, blinking cursor. I try to solidify my experiences by writing but my words fly immediately off the page as I type them. They refuse to stick to the page and dissolve, like snow falling on warm concrete. I rethink the symbolism of the snow. The snow is surely a symbol, but a symbol of the transience of writing. Both snow and writing are rebellious and fleeting and dance away as I try to capture them.

The impossibility of perfectly capturing an experience through the written word keeps me in the realm of cynicism. But I am freed by the thought that I am not recounting the past but creating a new experience altogether. My writing is not about recording but spinning something new out of the thick, charged air around me. The material is there, but I must make the first incision into the center to see the colors bleed out and find what I was looking for.

My Biggest Writing Fear

Everything I know about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I learned from CNN.

I lay on the couch during the late nights of November, 2014 and watched the Ferguson protests play out as if they were regularly scheduled programming.

“Look at what the blacks are doing now.”

“This is ridiculous, they just need to follow the laws like everyone else.”

Those were comments made by late-teen, white, well-to-do, upper middle class college students at Wake Forest University. They sat alongside me in a comfortable living room of the dorm while I watched the protests, just waiting for the halftime show of Monday Night Football to end.

Honestly, I am not sure if that’s what those college students said at all, but I do remember the silence that ensued. That silence came from me. Continue reading

When It Attacked

The words on the phone croaking from my father’s mouth paralyzed me, and for a brief moment time stopped. “The doctor called about your mother. The biopsy revealed cancer.” I slowly ended the call with a shaking finger.My body tensed in disbelief before succumbing to a series of sobs, compelling my roommate to hold me as if to squeeze out the enveloping pain. The family picture on my desk that once brought a sweet smile to my face, now served as an ever-present reminder that life brought both beautiful and ugly moments. Before now the ugly moments of my life challenged me, but never had a moment given death the opportunity to intercede.

Continue reading

“A Letter To My Son” Analysis


Many Americans believe we live in a post-racial society. However, given the numerous recent episodes of police brutality against black people and subsequent riots, it is apparent that racism persists. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article entitled “Letter To My Son” published in The Atlantic this past September attempts to engage the intellectual readers of this magazine in an emotional review of what it is like to grow up black in the United States. His letter, addressed to his fifteen year old son, is actually a sophisticated rhetorical piece of literature that attempts to get the readers to really see and feel first hand what the black experience is like in this country and thereby prove that racism exists and is the fault of the white majority. By using personal accounts of his life that expose this profound problem of racism in our country, the essay effectively uses the literary tool of pathos to make the reader deeply feel, for just a brief moment, the devastation racism has done and still is doing to our country. However, the angry, accusatory tone throughout his article ultimately leaves the non-black reader to feel guilty and detached from Coates’ arguments. Coates tone does not appeal to someone who is making an effort to understand the race issue in this country. Ultimately, Coates groups himself as a radical, thus limiting his audience to a very small group A more effective essay on racism, entitled “School Must Face Its Racial Realities” by Darius Williams was posted this past September to the Old Gold and Black. In this article, Darius also writes about the recent police brutalities. Darius, an African American college student, uses a tone that actually invites a conversation with the reader and gives an opportunity to open up further conversation on racism. For me, this is a more effective approach, and is far from the approach Coates takes. Although Coates letter is a well written, persuasive piece with good use of rhetorical literary tools such as pathos, ethos and logos, Coates’ tone and militant stance on race relations makes his essay difficult to relate to by the non-black reader whereas the piece by Darius, due to its tone, is more relatable and better opens up a reasoned conversation on racism– a conversation that Coates effectively shuts down with his anger, blame and vitriol.

On its face, Coates has written a letter to Samori Toure, Coates 15 year old son, telling him what it means to be an African American growing up in this country. The title “Letter to My Son” quite literally represents the ostensible motive that Coates had to write this essay. “I write you in your 15th year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store.” Coates makes it clear from the beginning of the letter that he is writing because of the recent events of police brutality towards African Americans in the United States. He wants to give his son his side of the story; however, it is also clear that he wants the reader to understand the recent events as well, from his perspective. Coates recounts different times in his own life that have chipped away at his innocence, engendered fear inside of him, and created a wall of anger and resentment he seems to have built up around him. Coates grew up in a predominately all-black neighborhood. His childhood neighborhood, a primary focus in the essay, instilled fear inside Coates at a young age. “Fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the world out there.” He concludes the essay with a more recent event that solidified Coates’ fear, and the fear he has for his son: the continual struggle growing up as a black man in this country. Coates describes how a white woman pushed Coates’ son. Coates’ initial reaction was to protect his son, like any parent. The white woman threatened to have Coates arrested, and it was in that moment he realized what it would be like for his son. “You are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.” The “struggle” that Coates refers to is that white people have the power to take his body, his son’s body. This connects to the introduction of the essay when Coates was asked about his body by a news host. As the essay concludes, it is clear the one purpose for writing this essay was to prepare his son for what it will be like to grow up in this world: a world that Coates views is rife with racism, and the trials he will have to endure as a result. This is the stated purpose that Coates wants his audience to see; however by publishing this essay in The Atlantic, Coates suggests another intended and very sophisticated, purpose to this essay.


Coates’ article is not merely a letter to his son; it is actually a rhetorically sophisticated article that attempts to persuade the reader that his arguments on racism are correct. Coates uses the literary tool of pathos to make the reader really see and understand the struggle of racism in our country, and how it is a present problem. However, Coates does not just rely on the rhetorical literary tool of pathos in his essay, but he also uses the rhetorical literary tools of ethos and logos as well, although pathos is his primary means of communicating his message. Coates’ use of his experiences as a black person growing up in a racist America as an example of ethos: Coates’s status as a black person in America does confer status on him as far as having a valid opinion on racism. He talks about growing up in Baltimore and one instance when he saw a group of older African American boys who he described as wearing ski jackets and one pulled out a gun “with the gun brandished, which he slowly untucked, tucked, then untucked once more.” Coates having been only in sixth grade at the time shows the harsh reality of growing up in these African American neighborhoods, and that Coates’ innocence was torn from him very early on in his childhood. This is both an example of effective use of ethos, using Coates own experiences to tell the story of what it is like to grow up black in America, and pathos, because it makes the reader see how hard it was for Coates when he was growing up and makes the reader more empathetic to his arguments about racism.

Coates’ writing about recent instances of police brutalities against African Americans is an effective use of pathos by playing to human emotions, but it is also an effective use of logos, because Coates uses current events to make his claims about racism against blacks in America today. There was one moment when his son went into his room and cried about the Michael Brown case. “You stayed up that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none, you said ‘I’ve got to go,’ and you went into your room, and I heard you crying.” This was a moment in the essay that gives an honest view of what it is like for African Americans to see all this police brutality and, therefore, a very effective use of pathos to make his point on the injustice of racism in the United States. It was also an excellent use of factual evidence, or logos, to make his arguments claiming continued and ongoing racism.

Describing this intimate scene is a powerful use of pathos. The moment that Coates hears his son crying pulls at the heartstrings of the reader. What was going through his son’s mind at this time? This moment of the essay appeals to every parent who may be reading it: the moment when parents see their children first exposed to the violence of our world. Throughout the essay Coates talks directly to his son and includes photographs of him and his son. In one of the pictures his son is just a child, still innocent, and Coates is holding him and has a very arrogant look on his face. This picture represents a lot of the emotion Coates is trying to portray in this essay: the before and after of an African American growing up in America. The child is pure, while the man has a wall up– a wall of fear. Seeing this in the picture allows the reader to almost feel the helplessness of Coates. The fear he has for his child, the fear he has for himself. “Fear ruled everything around me,” Coates stated at one point when he talked about growing up on the streets of Baltimore. Overall, this essay is very emotionally charged and allows readers to see the discrimination many African Americans face while growing up in our country.


Although Coates successfully gives the reader an honest view about the issues of racism in America he does so in a way that is angry and accusatory and thus, results in a disconnect between him and the reader. By making it a letter to his son and addressing his son directly, the reader already feels as if they are intruding in on a personal conversation. For example, when he says, “You and I, my son, are that ‘below’,” or when he refers to them as “we” it feels as if he is narrowing his audience down to just him and his son. At some points his tone comes off as very angry towards whites and refers to whites as “they” inferring separateness and blame, such as, “they made their riches off our stolen bodies”. This use of “they” and “our” causes an immediate detachment between black and white. He makes no attempt to relate to the white person, and the majority of the time puts them in a very harsh light. “Here is what I would like for you to know: in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body-it is heritage.” This leaves many people who cannot relate to this feeling extremely guilty, and at fault for the police brutality, loss of innocence of his son, and that they are the specific reason Coates is writing this letter to his son.

After reading this essay by Coates, I, as a white person, immediately felt I was being blamed, indirectly, for everything Coates and his son had been through, and my first reaction was to get defensive. I am extremely fortunate to be where I am, but my parents worked hard, I have worked hard and I felt Coates was trying to diminish that by saying I am well off because I am white. Coates tone was argumentative and it could have been more relatable to a wider audience. The tone that Darius Williams uses in his recent article “School Must Face its Racial Realities” posted in the Old Gold and Black is much more effective in opening up a real conversation on racism in this country. Darius also uses personal accounts to give the reader his experience of being an African American surrounded by all this police brutality. Darius details a time when he was pulled over by the police. He states, “The officer, cool and blue, strolled up to my door, looked inside my window and … he wept. He cried. He cried at what he saw. What he saw was me: my hands at 10 and two, my eyes on the ceiling, my license in plain sight.” This story not only made me really think about what Darius was feeling at that moment, but also accounted for the side of the cop. The white cop that Coates managed to portray as violent and cruel in his essay, Darius managed to portray as understanding and emotional. Rather than lay blame, Darius attempts to open up a conversation with others; he writes, “let’s find time to share a cup of coffee and chat this semester.” Overall Darius has a much more open, and conversational tone compared to Coates who does not even try to understand or have an open discussion with the other side.

Coates’ essay is full of emotion and his use of pathos, with some ethos and logos, is both effective and ineffective, due to his argumentative and accusatory tone. His personal narrative and use of current events of police brutality is effective in showing his son, and the reader, that the world he lives in is sometimes brutal and violent and is a world that may treat him differently because of his skin color. Coates does make a strong argument that racism is alive and well in the United States today. Coates use of personal narrative makes the reader have empathy for him and the racism he, as a black man, has personally experienced and witnessed. However, Coates’ angry tone and use of broad accusations of guilt of all white Americans diminishes the effectiveness of his arguments. This leads the reader to question his extreme views and makes this essay’s ultimate message less effective as a result. Coates could have been a more effective and persuasive writer if he had removed some of the vitriol from his message and attempted to pull at the reader’s heartstrings more, rather than point fingers and make the reader feel to blame. On the other hand, Darius in his essay uses a tone that is less angry and accusatory and actually invites a conversation with others on the topic of race. This essay is more effective in that it actually attempts to solve the problem of racism through open and honest discussion, rather than fan the fires of anger and hate like Coates does in his letter, which ultimately shuts down any open discussion on this very important topic.






Hurtful and Cold

Kobe Bryant, sporting his old number 8, rests on a basketball and thinks to himself.

Perhaps the most exuberant moment of my high school career occurred on a frigid December evening. It was two nights before my seventeenth birthday when my basketball team beat invincible high school superstar Kobe Bryant’s – and my mother’s – alma mater, powerhouse Lower Merion High School, a gem of a public school, posing as an academy, and possessing the scholastic and basketball credentials and opulence to pass for one. I have grown to despise Lower Merion for many reasons. First, my team suffered six losses to the Aces in four years, usually via demoralizing blowouts. Coincidentally, each of the three years they beat us in the regular season, they also beat us in the playoffs, on their home floor – a sparkling, raucous gym named after Kobe himself, the Los Angeles Lakers’ merciless late-game assassin and future Hall of Famer, turned local legend and $500,000 donor responsible for financing part of the project1. Continue reading


Solitude is an idea that has captured my mind in recent years, and I imagine I am not alone in such thoughts. If someone told me when I was a few years younger that he liked to spend a good amount of their time alone, my thoughts on hearing this would probably have fallen somewhere on the kindness spectrum close to “loser.” Today, I understand fully why some people would prefer to spend much of their time alone. In fact, the idea of being alone later in life has evolved from being utterly terrifying to perhaps tolerable. However, this deserves some further clarification.

Today, thinking about living alone no longer causes me to shudder. However, this represents a strange sensation that I feel almost inclined to resist. Even though I am overall a very social person who enjoys spending time with others, and especially with those I love, the idea of spending long periods of time in solitude seems to always creep into my mind. For example, this past summer my family and I travelled to Germany and spent a day island hopping on the most spectacular lake I have ever seen. If I were asked, and had the ability, to paint the purely picturesque, my canvas would glow with the beauty of this crystal lake, dotted with sailboats, a few small islands, and with the Alps on the horizon. While you are there, your mind flows to a mysterious era in the past, with castles and knights, while the beauty of the water washes away all the dark reality of this era, and leaves you behind, engulfed in the land of fairy tales. While I was there, I found myself planning my retirement at the very appropriate age of 18. I saw myself living in a house on this wonderful lake and spending my days at ease while fishing and learning to sail. To be fair to my social side, I relished the idea of making frequent incursions into equally picturesque towns nearby and to Munich, which was just an hour away. However, to my surprise, I didn’t immediately imagine myself with a wife or a family there with me, which shocked because I hope to have a family but something in my subconscious had slipped in the idea of living blissfully alone on those mystical shores. Perhaps because I was thinking as an 18 year old, I was incapable of imagining yourself at a more advanced age. Nonetheless, this experience, combined with my growing appreciation of alone time, forced me to contemplate more how I truly felt about solitude.

On my way back to Munich, I found myself fantasizing about what that life would be like, but even then I felt the cruelty of reality creeping steadily into my mind. I began to wonder whether I should spend my life alone, and this drove me to think about one of the ideas Samuel Johnson presents in his essay on solitude. He suggests that for a virtuous man to retreat from society would be wrong because he would take with him all the potential good he could do. I should make it very clear that I do not consider myself to be especially virtuous, but I hope to be someday. I believe the impact I might make on society could be very positive, especially if I had the resources which would allow me to live on that lake alone. This idea may seem strange, but can be backed up by research. In a New Yorker article about the growing popularity of living alone, Nathan Heller cites a study done by Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam. Putnam’s research shows a consistent decrease in “civic participation” and group involvement within society (Heller). This participation, and the general interest in the well-being of society that inspires it, is threatened by the increasing tendency towards solitude according to Heller. This suggests that chosen solitude in the long term is typically a selfish aspiration. By choosing to be on your own you are choosing to focus solely on your own goals, to connect less with others, and to be less available to help others when the opportunity presents itself. This was the first strain of reality that stood in the way of my initial retirement plans. Reluctantly I began to realize that a life without a care in the world was not ideal but rather ignorant. To achieve such an existence would mean I would be forced to ignore the plight of so many I could at least try to help. That was not the man I wanted to be. That did not equal the beauty I had imagined on that lake. Consequently, permanent solitude began to seem almost like a destructive high; I needed to distance myself from it no matter how much I preferred not to. Not surprisingly, Samuel Johnson was so far ahead of me when he so strangely and wisely suggested that solitude is never quite what we initially imagined it would be.

Now I should stop here briefly to address the question that I am sure at least a few of you are thinking about: what about monks and nuns, are they not righteous individuals? The simple answer is yes, which might suggest that solitude can indeed be holy, but I think you will see this is not exactly the case. First of all, monks and nuns live in groups at monasteries and, therefore, do not live in complete solitude. This means that the goodness and selflessness of one monastic can have a positive impact on all of their brothers and sisters in the monastery. In fact, these good deeds for one another define many of the great monastics. Also, it is important to remember that the primary goal of monasticism is not to live alone. The goal is to devote oneself entirely to the spiritual, and that may necessitate distancing oneself from the secular world. However, it does not mean monks and nuns must remain forever separate from this world. In fact, many monasteries can be places of refuge for the poor and desolate of local communities. The bottom line is, monastics do not live in the kind of solitude Samuel Johnson criticizes. Instead they live in groups where they devote themselves to God, each other, and others in need.

Despite the creeping of reality, I was not quite ready to accept solitude as worthless. Part of my growing positive views about solitude stem from positive results I have attained from being alone. For example, I have grown spiritually as a result of some of my contemplations in solitude as well as more secure with who I am. However, these were the result of mere hours spent alone, never prolonged periods of weeks or even days. According to a Huffington Post article about the benefits of solitude, many believe that spending some time alone can yield several positive results (Gregoire). Among these results are a surge in creativity, the ability to relax and step away from the chaos, the opportunity to reflect, and an increase in self-esteem. As before mentioned, these are benefits that I have experienced very clearly in my own life and it has led me to believe that spending periods of time in solitude can yield positive results. However, in my opinion the ultimate goal of seeking spiritual and emotional growth and stability should be in order to make yourself not only more comfortable with who you are, but also more able to help others. Consequently, I suppose solitude to be positive in moderation, with too much being damaging, like so many things.

However, even though I now have a better understanding about this side of solitude, I still haven’t gone back to the idea of whether I actually want to spend periods of my life alone. When I think of solitude, I think of the ability to be exactly who I am and want to be without the fear of what others will think. This feeling can serve to help me recharge, as the Huffington Post article suggests, and helps to spur on my spiritual growth. But this tends to be the case only when I am alone by choice. When I find myself alone when I would prefer not to be, I often wish I were with others or more occupied with work. During the holidays, my family and I spend at least a week in Richmond, Virginia. In that house, there is a sort of haven for me in a room separated from the rest by three steps and a pair of doors. On holiday mornings, I enjoy sitting in this room with some blankets while watching some tacky Christmas specials absent judging eyes. Granted, I am kept in company with the characters on these specials. But I still feel alone, a world away from anyone behind that screen. I love this time of day and I love reconnecting with who I am in peace. However, this experience would be non-existent if I didn’t know I could open those doors and find my parents reading in the next room, or if I didn’t know we would all be gathered in that same room later in the night to watch slightly less tacky movies. Perhaps people with far greater strength than me can find benefit in all types of solitude, but for me the element of knowing I don’t have to be alone is essential. In fact, this represents the essence of solitude for me. It is the ability to be alone by choice and for a particular reason. Anything else is either loneliness or introversion.

Now when I think about that lake in Bavaria, nothing is as simple as it once was. I no longer imagine the simplicity of a life spent fishing and sailing without a care in the world. Rather, I wonder whether this is how I should spend the precious few days I have on Earth, or whether I would feel the sharp sting of loneliness along those shores. This beautiful dream, so simple and so unexplained, can live on in my imagination but not in the real world. On the one hand this is sad, but on the other it is not. After all, on one level we all wish fairy tales were true but, on another, we are not sad the big bad wolf does not actually roam the earth. Similarly, we all yearn for the beauty of solitude but are foolish if we don’t recognize its consequences. While I may relish my time spent on that distant shore, at the end of my life would I really be satisfied with only an ability to fish and to sail? The answer is obvious for me, but that may be more of a flaw in my character than anything else. Solitude is different for me than it is for you, and though I have tried and failed to explain what it means to me, its conception in my mind has found a more concrete form.




Works Cited

Gregoire, Carolyn. “Being Alone: 7 Reasons Solitude Can Be Good For You.” The Huffington Post., 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.

Heller, Nathan. “The Disconnect – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. N.p., 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Johnson, Samuel. “The Solitude of the Country.” Comp. Phillip Lopate. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. New York: Anchor, 1994. N. pag. Print.

Conflicted by Conflict

I have always thought that fighting does not solve anything, but exacerbates existing problems between two parties. With that in mind, I would not classify myself as non-confrontational, as I neither fear asserting my opinion nor do I fear having to swing my fists. Despite this belief, I got into a fight with a former friend (I will call him Jack for the sake of this paper). Here’s a little background.

Shot from the movie Fight Club

Shot from the movie Fight Club

I met Jack at the very beginning of freshmen year in the dystopian utopia of Wake Forest. In all honesty, we actually hated each other when we first met. I came to the quick conclusion that Jack was a prick with an over-inflated ego. Jack thought that I was weird and that I tried way too hard. Despite these preconceived notions of one another, Jack and I lived quite close. As a matter of fact, Jack happened to live right next door to me in lovely Johnson Hall. So, due to some combination of god-awful living conditions and close proximity, we managed to form a tight friendship. We went out together. We ate together. We spotted each other cash. We pledged together. We hung out over the summer. You get the point.

Here’s how this completely unremarkable fight went down. It was a Saturday afternoon and, after returning from the gym, we were hanging out in Jack’s room. As usual, he started ripping on me on one of his original topics such as: Keith, you are weird, Keith, you talk to ugly girls, Keith, you get with ugly girls, Keith, you have a hot mom, Keith, you do not handle your liquor well, Keith, you need to lose weight, Keith, you are dressed stupidly. Jokes of this nature rarely phase me—I personally make self-deprecating jokes all the time—but on that day my blood started to boil. His jokes were not funny. They were not even jokes; they were insults. It was always a lose-lose with this kid. When we lifted and I would bench-press substantially more weight, he tried to correct my form. Whenever I made joke about him, he would become extremely upset. When I called him a dumbass while studying last semester, he practically ran out of the room crying. I digress. I was starting to get irritated but I remained calm. I happened to be sitting with Jack’s pillow between my legs, which caused him to threaten to “put his nuts” on my pillow. He began walking toward my room and that was when I had finally had it. I proceeded to put him in a double arm bar[1] and walked him back into his bedroom. He then told me to get out of his room. We have not talked since. As a result of my recent “fight,” I will attempt to analyze fighting from a scientific perspective to shed some light on a topic that gets less analysis than it deserves.

* * *

While fighting and aggression may seem synonymous, they are actually quite different. Aggression is a complex in animal species that consists of acts that are hostile. Yelling, beating one’s chest, fighting and many other actions fall under the categorical umbrella of aggression. We all have our moments of aggression; however, “In humans there are no consistent patterns of aggressive behaviors that make men have more luck with women or succeed over other men for status, even though sometimes aggression does play a role. Even when fighting, many of the most effective professionals (such as in boxing and ultimate fighting) are good because of their ability to strategically constrain their aggression” (Fuentes). Whether one makes a passive-aggressive remark or decides to shoot someone in the face, humans have aggressive tendencies. Despite these tendencies, reproduction has selected against aggression. According to Fuentes, that leaves humans with a slight genetic basis to commit acts of aggression with the acts of aggression having little social and reproductive benefit. Sports that allow one to exert aggression yet maintain a safe environment greatly relieve violent inclinations.

Personally, I agree with that assessment of combat-oriented sports. I wrestled competitively from ages six to fourteen. Wrestling was an awesome stress-reliever. If I had a bad day, I would channel all my negative energy into having a good practice. The sport strips one to his bare essentials. On the wrestling mat, the outside world fades into oblivion. The noise of the crowd fades into something ethereal; the sound is there but the wrestlers cannot hear it. A wrestler is too focused on the task in front of him. Hell, once on the mat, winning does not even matter; as long as you try your best you actually can have a transcendental experience—it is probably some combination of endorphins, adrenaline, and fatigue. A wrestling match is one of the few times when trying your best and losing still has some aspect of satisfaction. Most importantly, wrestling taught me a basic level of respect for engaging one in combat. One should never take a fight lightly. Fighting has rules. Your opponent deserves the same amount of respect as you do.

The question now arises, what causes violence? If humans are so preternaturally inclined to avoid aggression, why is there mass murder in the Middle East? Why do cops senselessly beat innocent civilians? Why do husbands beat their wives? Mounting evidence suggests that violence (which obviously includes fighting), much like racism, is a learned behavior. That does not necessarily mean a child learns violence from witnessing violence, but that raising a child a certain way can increase violent tendencies. For example, witnessing spousal abuse did increase a child’s tendency to commitment domestic violence later in life, but child neglect actually had the largest affect on spousal abuse out of any form of maltreatment (Bevan & Higgins, 17). So a lousy household greatly increases the chances of whether a child grows into an abusive adult or not. Oddly enough, neglect leads to a greater rate of spousal abuse than actual domestic violence. From a completely basic psychoanalytic standpoint, I would theorize that neglect causes some sort of emotional hole within the child’s psyche that places a desire for attention and respect. As an adult the former child commands respect and attention through a regular beating of his or her spouse.

In addition to maltreatment breeding aggressive behavior later in life, factors also exist that increase aggressive behavior. A common scapegoat diagnosed as the cause of all the school shootings, teen violence, and virtually every other problem takes shape in the form of violent video games. Naturally, this blind blame has sparked a large amount of research into whether or not violent video games can directly cause violence. Recently, research released by the APA has concluded that playing violent video games increases aggression during and directly after playing the game; however, evidence did not provide any clarity on whether or not this increased violent crime. So playing a video game may make you more inclined to yell at your siblings, but it does not necessarily mean that one will show up strapped to school the next day with the full intention of murdering everyone. For my purpose, this contributes to the fact that external factors do have a tangible impact on aggression and likely fighting. This also ameliorates the rhetorical questions asked in the previous paragraph.



Even though certain video games possess violent content, an apparent gap exists as to whether or not the violence or competitive nature of these types of games drives an influx in aggression. In the realm of sports, both baseball and football cause similar spikes of aggression in athletes (Anderson & Carnegey, 6). Nevertheless, there appears to be very limited data that corroborates non-violent video games causing the same increase in aggression as violent video games (Anderson & Carnegey 6). However, this is only a singular study on a rather new field and a gap on information is apparent. An accurate way to potentially test the viability of such claims would be to test on a much larger scale. Who knows, maybe Mario could make somebody as angry as Call of Duty. From personal experience, I have seen my younger brother freak out at both of these video game franchises, all thought that could just be him.

* * *

With all that information regarding fighting, violent behavior, aggression and all that, I guess now is the time I should to go the generic confessional route and end this paper with some huge proclamation. I can talk about what I’ve learned since this nonsenses happened, how I’ve become a better person, or finish with an elegy about how I wish things went back to they way they had been. I will sincerely avoid trying to do any of that fictional fairy tale stuff, because not everyone draws the perfect conclusion in real life. Rather, I think I have found the proper course of action to take.

I refuse to finish writing acting like a victim of some great atrocity that happened. Fights, violence, and aggressive behavior are completely natural behaviors that continue to persist despite the great advances of language, technology, and civilization. Having a fight with a friend does not make me special in any way, shape, or form. Nevertheless, I do not condone fighting. We have literally reached a point of technological advancement in which we have portable devices that allow us to read great works of literature, look up directions to China, look at photos of food, all while simultaneously talking with your mother. We have the means to take a diplomatic approach to situations of any nature, but the primal tendency to be aggressive—to fight—can be so overwhelmingly powerful, that it engulfs us. Rage can sometimes flow straight from the head to the very peripherals of the human body, consuming every cell along the way. So do I regret fighting Jack? Not at all. He had it coming. Do I regret momentarily allowing hatred to consume myself? Absolutely. With all of the rapists, racists, murders, cults, ISIS, I do not need to lower myself and contribute to the sphere of hatred and violence. Cue the cliché: life is too short to spend it being angry. I will not live spitefully like my former friend. So Jack, if you know who you are and manage to read this, I forgive you, but by no means do I consider you my friend.

[1] A wrestling move where one runs both of his arms underneath the armpit of his opponent (facing backwards), clasping hands together at the back

My Big Fat Greek Family

Picture of Santorini Island

When I tell my friends and acquaintances that I am Greek, their first comment inevitably is “So your family is kind of like that family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” to which I respond “Somewhat.” Having watched that movie numerous times and grown up in a Greek household and culture, I can definitely attest to the accuracy of some of it and even some of the stereotypes it portrays. My Greek family is massive, always boisterous, and there is constantly food involved whenever we are together, but I do not have six brothers and cousins named Nick, my family does not roast whole lambs in the front yard, nor is my house shaped like the Parthenon with a Greek flag painted on the garage. My family does not use Windex as an all-purpose ailment for cuts, pains, and diseases, but instead uses rubbing alcohol for any signs of sickness. This film, however, displays the core of the Greek household, which revolves around traditions and customs that are passed down from previous ancestors and elders. Many of these originate from the Greek Orthodox religion while others are superstitions and general beliefs.

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Last Friday Night: A Memoir

The problem with my drinking is that I know way too much about addiction. I read up on this from a brain science perspective and found out that addiction happens when you do not feel normal without your drug of choice. Apparently, the drug changes your brain chemistry so that you feel down when you do not take your drug. Even thinking about that drug sends you into withdrawal. Your body undergoes a balancing act. Your mind thinks alcohol and your body gets ready for alcohol, so then it starts up the systems that would typically destroy the alcohol. So when you are addicted, your body kind of battles itself. This process is out of your control. In fact, it only takes a Bud Light commercial to pop up during the timeout of the basketball game to start the withdrawal process. It only takes a Bud Light commercial to knock your brain out of normal. I see hundreds of Bud Light commercials. Then I ask myself, am I still in control? Am I addicted?

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