Stigma Around Majoring in the Arts is Still a Reality

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Sydney Stam

(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

A few weeks ago, I got together with four of my oldest friends — the first time we’d sat together at a table in over a year. Much of our conversation was spent reflecting on what had taken place in our lives since we had last met. I expressed my fondness for the games program, which I had recently transferred into at the University of Utah.

Unaware of this change or this program, my friends began to question me on the nature of my degree. As I explained, I was met with great condescension, hesitation and ridicule — sentiments like “It sounds like you just want to play video games,” and “That’s not even a real degree.” Given the nature of our friendship, the criticism rolled easily off my back. However, I began to reflect on how often it seemed like I needed to defend my degree, and I was surprised to find I wasn’t alone in my experience.

Surrounded by Stigma

Regardless of where their major fit into the arts — film, ballet or music performance — many students I spoke to said their choice of degree has been questioned when brought up. One of the most dominant stigmas was the notion that jobs in the arts are essentially non-existent. Questions like “How will you ever make any money?” or “You have a different major too, right?” are asked incessantly when, in reality, the arts employ about 3.5 million individuals in the United States.

Obviously, the arts are a competitive field, but I believe the same can be said about any field someone is pursuing a career in. Why then does this stigma arise so often with arts majors?

Arts in the Backseat

“One of the worst things for me is when people ask if I’m planning on being a stripper,” said Kendall MacMillan, a double major in ballet and film. “It’s like being a stripper would be more acceptable than being a ballerina.” This stigma and condescension are especially frustrating for MacMillan when it comes from fellow students in other programs.

University of Utah School of Dance is widely regarded as one of the best dance schools in the nation, with one website ranking the School of Dance 3rd in the nation for ballet. As proud as I was of this ranking, I was disappointed that my first time hearing about this was from someone in the ballet program. I feel like this prestige should be proudly owned by our campus community, and it’s no wonder that this dance major is exhausted by having to defend her choice to fellow students. MacMillan furthered this sentiment, saying “I’m dancing four to six hours a day. I’m an athlete for the university, yet we’re not provided with the same resources and equipment as some of the other athletes on campus are.”

Dance majors aren’t alone in feeling like the arts take a back seat to other disciplines at the U. Samuel Kim-Judd, a music and philosophy major said, “I feel as though the university pushes the STEM path, which is absolutely a good thing, but at times it happens at the expense of the arts.” Kim-Judd also expressed that he feels his peers view art students as less academically credible upon learning their major. “I feel like there’s a misunderstanding about how intensive arts, especially performance degrees are,” he said. “Performances, theory, seminars — there are so many aspects that I feel like people don’t realize.”

A Community of Understanding

It is important to note that each student I spoke with mentioned their fondness for their programs, professors and the university as a whole. Within their respective departments, a safe haven can be found that dispels stigmas and instills confidence in its students. Kim-Judd reflected many students’ opinions, saying, “Where some schools I’ve interacted with have been cutthroat, the U feels more like a community. They expect a lot from their students, and there is definitely competition, but it’s one of the most supportive environments I’ve been in.”

These students are not whiny or myopic. Although their frustrations were vented and boldly stated, the artists I interviewed were full of hope for their future careers. If anything, I felt like they have been inspired and pushed forward by the criticism they’ve faced. At the core of each of their long-term goals was a desire to share how wonderful and important the arts truly are.

There will always be those who trivialize and ridicule student artists. I don’t expect this to ever go away. I only hope that incoming students can dispel the stigmas to create a campus community where arts and sciences flourish together. The more unified we are, the more we will be able to achieve.

 

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