Humanities@CMU launched following student input

Carnegie Mellon’s new initiative, Humanities@CMU, is focused on creating a distinct brand for its humanities institutions. Key goals of the initiative are strengthening the humanities in terms of education, research, and student communities, as well as improving marketing and internship opportunities.

“In many ways, you, the students, inspired this approach. Dean Scheines and I were moved by Emma Flickinger’s piece in the Tartan last Spring, and we had followed a series of other articles the Tartan had done on the Humanities at CMU,” said Andreea Ritivoi, English Department head and leader of the upcoming Humanities@CMU Initiative.

Flickinger’s op-ed on the status of the humanities at Carnegie Mellon, published in Nov. 2018, discussed how she felt the humanities were undervalued in several aspects: campus culture, career recruitment, interdisciplinary work, and branding. Her article helped catalyze a town hall focused on the state of the humanities. A follow-up town hall is to be expected in the near future to introduce Humanities@CMU and gather input.

Ritivoi will be leading the initiative, alongside a steering committee comprised of faculty and students spanning humanities and non-humanities departments. The committee, yet to be formed, will be comprised of people within the humanities and those adjacent to them.

Explaining Humanities@CMU’s plan of action, Ritivoi told The Tartan in an emailed interview that the initiative would start with student input. This semester, Ritivoi and Dean Scheines will be hosting lunches with students to discuss prospective common spaces for humanities students and community building efforts.

The initiative also intends to create support for humanities-centric internships, building off of the Pittsburgh Summer Internship Program. In its second year, that program helped connect 48 Dietrich College students with internships at 34 organizations throughout the region. Ritivoi told us that Humanities@CMU’s current goal is to support 60 student internships.

Humanities@CMU also intends to expand the humanities by designing and launching undergraduate programs grounded in the humanities disciplines that are also flexible and broadly attractive for students in other fields. “Health, as an area, is going to be one of the first places where we look to build an interesting minor that is grounded in the humanities,” Ritivoi mentioned.

“Our plan is to bring more humanities-grounded programs to our other colleges and to draw those students into them. I know from experience, as a teacher, that once students from other colleges take our humanities courses, they are often hooked and acquire a deep respect for the humanities, sometimes adding a major or a minor in a humanities field.”

Ritivoi added, “It’s important to point out that the humanities have always been deeply interdisciplinary, on their own terms, and that throughout the long history of the humanities certain questions that were raised had what we would now consider a scientific question. For example, natural philosophy in the 17th century (and before then) had a very strong interest in what are now issues studied by physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians.”

“The humanities always point to what the actual impact on the human condition is, be it from an ethical perspective, a cultural one, or an aesthetic one. Our hope is to continue to support the already existing interdisciplinary conversation around the humanities at CMU, but also to systematically point out exactly what role the humanities play, and how key it is,” said Ritivoi.

Under the initiative, humanities programs are going to be reviewed to figure out the present strengths, as well as any additional support they could use. “We are looking to generate new ideas that will update existing programs for the intellectual sensibility of a new generation and the problems of our time,” Ritivoi said.

What’s unique about Carnegie Mellon’s humanities approach, according to Ritivoi, is the emphasis on world issues. Carnegie Mellon tackles issues like climate change, gender studies, technological ethics, racism, and globalization — all of which require a humanities lens, she said.

In the future, the initiative may bring new seminars, co-taught by groups of humanities professors in different disciplines. New professionalization workshops and research and writing groups may well be on their way too.

“While CMU is known for its STEM programs, I see that as a provocation not a problem, and I have always been inspired and motivated by the successes of our colleagues in CIT or SCS. We hope that the launch of Humanities@CMU will help us to strengthen our reputation among top universities with strong humanities programs,” Ritivoi stated.

“The uniqueness of CMU, for me as a humanist, is that an environment so powerful in technology and science has a culture of respect for high-stakes research and intellectual precision. I like that a lot.”