THE BLOG
01/27/2015 06:22 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2015

A Message for Communications Majors and Those Who Stereotype Them

It wasn't until long after I graduated college that I learned just how stigmatized the "Communications Major" is in this society. (A Google search of "communications major stereotypes" yields almost one million results, complete with videos and commentary suggesting just how worthless comm majors are).

As a result of this newfound knowledge, I often find myself hesitating to tell others that I, indeed, started out as a communications major. If I can avoid bringing up that fact at all, I avoid it. In discussion, I fall back on my Ph.D. in education, and breathe a sigh of relief when the conversation does not dig into any more of my educational history than that.

Essentially, what I have done is deny an extremely important aspect of my earlier life and the very field that has shaped my identity as a teacher, and I am tired of it.

I was a communications major at a small, private college with a growing communications department staffed by experts in the field (yes, there are actual experts in this field and they do incredibly interesting and well-regarded work). My friends were communications majors. And now that I know what it "means" to be a comm major, at least socially, the assumptions people might make about us due only to our chosen major leave me absolutely flabbergasted. Here are a few of those assumptions:

  1. We were ditzy, perhaps even straight up stupid;
  2. We majored in communications because we were not good at anything else, and as such:
  3. We were not serious about school;
  4. We were not serious about life;
  5. We may as well have majored in "Underwater Basketweaving" because we were not going to go anywhere professionally, anyway;
  6. And for the above reasons, we were not worthy of being taken seriously.

I guess I am still not sure as to why, truly, these assumptions exist, but I have no doubt that our fetish with money and the dangerous idea that "net-worth = self-worth" is tied to them.

Sure, communications majors are not likely to make $80k out of college. In this day and age, I'd be surprised if anyone, regardless of their major, made a substantial salary straight out of college. When I scored my first comm-related position after college, I think I made $30k. And yes, that really (really, incredibly) sucked, even at a time when $30k might take you further than it does today. However, life is not all about the benjamins, and we'd all do best to distance ourselves from those who feel that way.

Here is what being a communications major afforded me:

Creative experiences in a multitude of sub-fields, and as such, myriad opportunities to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I have done work in public relations, advertising, marketing, sales, account managing, and even had the opportunity to use my graphic design minor in several of these positions. (Yes, I was also a graphic design minor, which I guess just adds to those negative assumptions about who I must be, as a person. Or something.)

In my experience, the communications major opens the doors to creativity in a way that many other majors simply do not. On the other hand, what is required of communications majors in order to get ahead does not appear any different from what is required of those who are majoring in other fields:

  • Learning to network effectively should always be a top priority; as with most fields, connections are important.
  • Learning how to intern effectively, particularly learning the rules of not knowing what you do not know, should be a top priority;
  • Proactively seeking employment opportunities long before you graduate (and without the need for your hand to be held by your major professors) should be an increasing priority as you move through your program.

Not all of my experiences were hunky-dory. But as anyone anywhere can tell you, negative experiences have nothing to do with a major (or field) itself.

That said, I really do not get all of the comm-hatred. I did not major in communications because I was a ditz, or "bad" at math, science, and other STEM-related fields. I majored in communications because if I did not guarantee myself the opportunity to function throughout life as a talented, creative person, I was, by design, guaranteeing myself a life of misery. And even as a 20-year-old, I had enough self-awareness to know what my choice as a communications major meant for my larger, long-term life outcomes and future self. I am thankful that I did not happen upon the stereotypes until long after graduation; I'm not sure that I would have been strong enough to make the right decision in the face of those who seem to employ the "comm major" stereotypes to rationalize and feel better about their own choices.

If you know even a little bit about me, you might be saying to yourself, "But you are not even working in communications. You're a teacher. So obviously this means that you left communications for a reason."

No. I did not "leave" communications. In fact, my major and past-life experiences working in communications have informed my approach to my teaching in a huge way. So huge, in fact, that when I started out as a teacher, I knew for a fact that I held a creative advantage over those who pursued traditional routes to teaching (this according to the school principle who hired me). As I said in a recent email to one of my former, beloved communications professors: "While I did not wind up in communications per se, I will always believe that my education/training prepared me well for the creativity required of teaching."

Finally, this is not an "us versus them" argument that I am pushing, here, despite how it may seem.

As individual programs, fields, and arm-chair observers of them, we need to stop pretending that those in communications-related fields could not benefit tremendously from collaboration with those in business, finance, and STEM-related fields. We need to stop pretending that those in business, finance, and STEM-related fields hold an inherent advantage over the creative minds that are developed in communications-related fields. I now have personal, professional, and creative interests which could benefit from those who are business, finance, and STEM-savvy. My only regret is not exploring more of the knowledge those fields have to offer when I was a college student; as such, my hope is that communications departments collaborate and interact more with other departments (and vice versa) than they did when I was a comm major.

I do not, under any circumstances, regret my academic investments in the communications major. It got me where I am. And I am hereby committing to stop pretending otherwise.

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