Van Meter, Justine K.
Dr. Justine K. Van Meter, Assistant Professor of English
Each of you in the Honors program is undoubtedly working through the process of figuring out what the future holds and what the Honors program, with its focus on interdisciplinarity, and what your chosen major(s) may offer in terms of future monetary or career gains. Each of you has, also undoubtedly, been asked the question: “What are you going to do with that?” The pressure to respond with a definitive answer is immense, even when it may as yet be unclear. For those of us in the Humanities, there is an all-too-familiar temptation to answer defensively or to shrug off the question with humor or indifference.
As I was working on my Master’s Degree in Humanities, as an example, I also often encountered people who wanted to know what I would do with “that.” The answer was never simple, even though I had a clear path in mind for myself (teaching at the university level). It became even more complicated when, while working on my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I was asked the same question and now that I have the degrees and the position within a university, I am – rather unbelievably – still asked this question, which is perhaps further proof of our culture’s misunderstanding or dismissal of the role of Humanities/Interdisciplinary Studies within our personal and collective lives.
My answer to this question now is perhaps even more complex, since the initial goals have been achieved and yet, within our academic system, there are continual expectations related to teaching and publication successes. It may seem that this would make it easier to respond, since I can now provide a list of things that I do each semester: I teach these specific courses; I am working on this or that writing/research project for publication by this specific date. But the fact that I feel I must justify what I “do” with “that” seems to constantly avoid the real answer to the question.
So, rather than the usual feeling of defensiveness and despondency I have experienced in the past, I will now answer: “Here is what I am going to do in just one day. I am going to explore. I am going to seek. I am going to live many lives and perspectives by reading and writing and discussing. I am going to connect to, and engage with, others’ ideas and voyage, however briefly, to different places and time periods. On just this one day, I am going to go to Nigeria and Ireland and Martinique and I will meet and converse with political activists and historians and theorists and artists and even ghosts and witches. I am going to do all of this with others, who agree and disagree – both quietly and loudly – and we are going to continually create and re-create a community so that eventually, the question need not be asked at all because the answer will be obvious that I – and we all – must do this. Best of all, I am going to do it all again tomorrow.” And then, I will simply ask the inquirer: “What are you going to do?”