Why We Don't Walk Out


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Nerds don't go on strike," my professor says, leaning backwards against the chalkboard, his glasses gleaming. A grin spreads across his face, all the while knowing he has cleverly dodged the question. The class laughs uneasily.

We laugh because it's funny; uneasily because we know it's true. Nerdish rage is often better taken out by playing a vengeful game of "Mario Kart," by writing on the tables in the LeConte reading room, by dramatically ripping up a bad calculation, by cracking open a beer and coding up a world-changing website and etc.

Nonetheless, despite our generally nonconfrontational nature, a classmate and I had miraculously convinced a physics professor to devote part of the lecture to a discussion on the day's walkouts - which we were, obviously, not attending. As quickly as we had asked the question, we found it turned back on us. What did we think? Why were we still in class? Why hadn't we walked out?

"We can't afford it," is the resounding answer from the class. Our classes are too intense, our labs too long, our academic endeavors too important. We've got real shit to take care of, seemed to be the consensus. Those humanities kids have no idea what we go through. The class laughs again.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to out and say it. I laughed a little too. I'm sorry, humanities kids. As high and mighty as it sounds, it's somewhat true. You have no idea what we go through. Unfortunately, what we often fail to realize is that we have no idea what you go through, either.

That's when I realized: Just because we science kids feel like we have more work to do doesn't give us a free pass on being insufferable.

I know it's hard, guys. It's all too tempting to try and justify your plight by convincing yourself that you're somehow better than everybody else - especially when you've spent 15 hours on a single problem set and it's due in 10 minutes and there's still half a problem left and you don't know what to do because you're at your wit's end.

Well, well, well, this subtle undercurrent of antagonism simply can't be healthy.

"Whose university? Our university!" has been the rallying cry for a few semesters now - a cry which I have at best heard from the LeConte window. My question then is, who is this elusive "our"? Sitting in lab as my circuit malfunctions for the millionth (a rough estimate) time, I think to myself: "Hey, isn't this my university too?" But if I walk out of this lab to "save" my education, I fail this class - and that seems, at this point, more counterintuitive than anything.

Just as it is not productive for science students to discredit other fields, it is unfair for students in these other fields to accuse science students of callousness. Like anyone else, many hard science and engineering students believe that can use what they learn to help people. To be a scientist is to have deep, though often tacit, faith in humankind - in the idea that technology that can improve the human condition or in the idea that we are maybe capable of one day understanding the complexities of nature. In short: We care. A lot of us do, at least. Just imagine the possibilities if the dialogue on the university included a broader range of academic voices.

That being said, the walkouts are simply a case that brings to light a larger issue. In a world where science shapes society and vice versa, we need to be able to communicate with each other. After all, science kids, let's face it: Who ultimately creates regulatory legislation and holds the purse strings for the research money? Politicians. Elected officials. Humanities majors. Academia is where it all starts, and however appealing it as it might sound to someone like me, physics alone cannot save the world. If only it were that easy.

The problem is not that nerds don't go on strike. Just take a look at yourself, my fellow Berkeley student, for goodness sake. If that were the case, the walkouts wouldn't have even happened. Rather, instead of breeding contempt between sides, our academic culture needs to support a kind of learning that fosters understanding and communication.

I've managed to convince myself, possibly naively, that science and art, at their cores, are the very same endeavor: The search for truth and sometimes meaning. Being able to see this bigger picture in the context of (without laughing at ourselves for how ridiculously noble it seems) may be a good step in developing mutual respect amongst students of different disciplines.

Changing the culture of academia means more than having students to take breadth requirements - it means changing the way material is presented and the way we are taught to think about our own specializations. As students of either nature or of the human condition - or both - we simply have to humble ourselves at the feet of the terrifying truth that we cannot possibly have all of the answers.


Send your relativistic corrections to Arielle at [email protected]

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