How to Talk to an Arts and Letters Major

Author: Genevieve Redsten


A familiar scene: You bump into your buddy in the library. He’s sitting criss-cross applesauce, holding a pair of scissors in one hand and a glue stick in the other. You ask him what he’s working on. He tells you he’s recreating “The Iliad” in birthday-card form. Tentatively, you nod, confused. He offers you the seat next to him, and graciously, you accept.

You, dear reader, have encountered an Arts and Letters major in his natural habitat. Gentle, sensitive creatures, Arts and Letters majors can disorient the unsuspecting passerby with their strong, yet perplexing, opinions. Proceed with caution. Below is a five-step guide to help you safely handle this interaction.

  1. Avoid all discussion of post-graduation plans. Your friend here is majoring in “undecided” with three months left of senior year. It’s preferable to stick to safer topics of conversation, such as veganism or the latest indie film.
  2. Unsure of what to say next? Share an opinion, and ask him to “unpack” it. In the process, he might inform you that you’re “problematic,” but he’s sure to keep talking. And right now? That’s exactly what you need.
  3. Good job, that monologue bought you two minutes! But now the Arts and Letters major is spewing unfamiliar vocabulary, and you’re pretty sure he’s making it up as he goes. Words whiz in one ear and out the other: performative, interpellation, homogenize, problematize, problematicatize? You’re not sure how to react.
  4. Fear not — this language barrier is to be expected. Don’t try to engage. Instead, ask your friend to talk about his interests. What videos has he watched recently on NowThis News? Is he more of a mug or thermos guy? Which reusable water bottle brand does he prefer?
  5. Now 10 minutes have passed, and you, unlike your buddy here, have tests coming up — tests that are graded. But now that the Arts and Letters major is talking about his home-brewed kombucha, he isn’t picking up on your subtle hints that it’s time to say goodbye. The moment has come for you to interject. Thank him for raising such an interesting idea. Tell him you’d like to bounce off of his point — then bounce out of the library and as far away as you can get.