Making the Case for Humanities
Dorothy Wong firmly believes that the study of the humanities has great value, even as policy discussions in Asian and American contexts focus on building up STEM-related fields. “We need to recognize how important it is to think critically,” she said, and in her view, the study of subjects such as philosophy, art, music, and literature can develop that ability and promote a greater sense of social responsibility.
A native of Hong Kong, Dr. Wong received her undergraduate education at International Christian University (ICU) in Japan with the support of a United Board scholarship. She considered attending university in Hong Kong, but felt that the degree programs available at that time would lead to “well-paved career paths” that were not exciting to her. “There were no colleges of liberal arts in Hong Kong at that time,” she recalled, “so I did something totally unknown and unpredictable when I went to ICU.”
Dr. Wong was already interested in history and literature when she arrived at ICU in 1977, but general education courses expanded her interests to art history and philosophy. Her rigorous study of Japanese opened up additional sources of scholarly information to her. Those diverse interests set her on course to earn a PhD in art history from Harvard University and take a faculty position with the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia. “I found lasting benefits in spending those four years outside my comfort zone,” she said. “For me, that was life-changing.”
Dr. Wong’s field of expertise is the Buddhist art of medieval China, yet she makes a strong case for students in all fields to incorporate the humanities into their university education. “People talk about the job market,” she said, and assume that business, engineering, science, or computer courses offer the surest paths to employment. But more ambitious students – and their parents – should take a broader view if they want to reach the top of their respective fields. “In high-level positions, you need people who can make an argument, see multiple perspectives, write well, and be articulate,” she argued. “These skills don’t come from technical classes but from the humanities, where you learn to think in a logical and sophisticated manner, to identify subtle differences, and to read and interpret critically.” She hopes students will recognize that achievements in science or medicine can go hand in hand with the humanities, and that pursuing a double major or adding a minor in the humanities can strengthen long-term career prospects.
Dr. Wong is thankful for the liberal arts education she received at ICU and her scholarship from the United Board. She expresses her gratitude through her contributions to the United Board in support of faculty development and peace studies. “ICU’s founders believed respect for other cultures would lead to peace,” she said, and she encourages students to seize opportunities, as she did, for international exchange and the possibilities it creates for greater understanding of people, cultures, and ideas.
The United Board is grateful to Dr. Wong for her support of its programs and for her planned gift commitment through the United Board Legacy Society.