In Defense of Distribution Requirements

One of my current favorite phrases is “I’ve got my fingers in many pies,” meaning: I’ve got various options in the works right now. This phrase is GREAT because it sparks such a vivid image of me in an apron destroying several pies. Now imagine that Yale is a big pie bakery. All it churns out are quality pies. This one pie tastes like American History and it is DELICIOUS. This one tastes like combinatorics and it is SCRUMPTIOUS. My question is, why come to Yale if you’re not going to stick your fingers in a wide array of high-quality pies? Why would you only sample one flavor when you know all the other ones are basically guaranteed to be some of the best pies in the world? Luckily, you don’t have any choice. Yale takes your hands and won’t let you graduate until you’ve shoved them in all the pies.

Translation: in your time at Yale, you are required to take two classes in each of the following areas: writing, social sciences, humanities, science, language, and quantitative reasoning. A few of these things I would have taken care of even without the requirement. However, to be totally honest, if I didn’t NEED to do math and science to graduate, I probably would not have touched those steamy pies with a ten-foot pie-pole. That would have been a big mistake!

I’ve always been excited by math but also scared of it. Excited because math is clearly the key to the universe, ultimate truth, etc, etc, and I acknowledge that it would be sick to know more about that. However, it definitely takes me a long time to pick up on certain concepts, and probably due to a combination of more general self-doubt and also internalized misogyny, I have always told myself that I am BAD at quantitative reasoning. Science is similar in that it doesn’t come as easily to me as the humanities, but if I think too long about sea creatures I get kind of out-of-breath because the ocean is vast and miraculous and that shrimp that makes sonic sound bullets really exists. For a long time, a fear of failure kept me from STEM subjects, even though those were the subjects that really made me look up from whatever I was working on and think, “Whoa, no way!”

I got to go to the Bronx Zoo for free with my science class. Check out those dope primates. 

Good thing Yale told me I couldn’t graduate without taking some STEM classes.

Last spring, I took a first-year seminar (small classes offered only to first-years!) called Math as a Creative Art. This was honestly one of the most boppin’ and bangin’ class I have ever taken. It was also not unchallenging–yes, we played games and did art, but I came away with a) knowledge of advanced math concepts like topology and game theory, b) the ability to write a proof, c) tons of questions that can potentially be answered or at least probed at in later math classes, and d) greater respect for myself as a mathematician and person in STEM.

Taking Math as a Creative Art gave me the confidence to sign up for an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology class focused on primates. The coolest thing about this class (other than getting to watch videos of monkeys) was our free trip to the Bronx Zoo a few weeks ago. We spent the entire day at the zoo, watching the primates and taking “field notes” on them. Aside from being a wonderful opportunity to get off campus and visit a world-class zoo, I bonded with my classmates–rare in a lecture! 

Last summer, I taught a mini-version of my math seminar to a group of girls in grades 4-6 at the summer camp where I worked. My campers learned about möbius strips and fractals and I even took them rock climbing a few times to teach problem solving skills. To be able to pass this knowledge along, especially to young people and especially especially to girls, was so rewarding.Sure, sometimes I fantasize about only taking English and History courses and wish I were working on a short story instead of doing a problem set. But in the big picture, I really believe that it’s important to have and share a breadth of knowledge. Otherwise everyone would be boring!