Op-Ed: Your STEAM acronym will not save the Arts

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By Dane Sauve, for the Lambda

While most students hit the books on the afternoon of November 14, the Brenda Wallace Reading room was filled with an anxious crowd, listening intently to the Minister of Employment, Patricia Hajdu, and the Sudbury MP, Paul Lefebvre. Advertised as a Town Hall, the talk discussed the Youth Employment Program’s successes and areas for improvement.

The Youth Employment Program is meant to help both students and businesses to connect during the summer, to facilitate experiential learning while also supporting local business.

By the time the question-and-answer portion came about, people were eager to inject their two cents worth into the conversation. Most of the comments reflected positively on the program: “I had a great experience,” or “This was awesome, but you should look at doing this.” The two government employees gorged themselves on the compliments, sparing no chance to echo the fact that their project is a huge success.

However, a quick step down from their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) tower, might have shown them the flock of Arts students they were slowly pushing into a convenient corner where they would gradually fall out of notice.

In the interest of fairness, there was some attention paid to the Arts program throughout the conversation. Hajdu tactfully shared an anecdote of how a large software company enjoyed taking on an Arts student through this program. Apparently, to the surprise of the company, the Arts could, in fact, serve a purpose! However, that purpose was a support role for the vastly more critical STEM work.

This experience prompted her to consider how the program could incorporate the Arts into STEM to create STEAM: the monolithic field which would finally rid the government of its Arts problem.

The STEAM acronym perfectly encapsulates the government’s attitude toward incorporating the Arts: bury the Arts in the areas that matter and hope that it is enough to shut them up.

For those who are in the category of an Arts discipline not compatible with STEM, you may ask yourself, “What is the government doing for those fields?”

Well, rest assured, concerned readers, the government is looking into it. While pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into experiential learning opportunities for the students in financially viable careers, you marginalized Arts students can rest easy knowing a bunch of parliament members are assessing this situation.

It is as if the idea of Arts existing in the university was entirely novel. Pleading ignorance is a viable excuse because the foundation of the university are programs like biomechanical engineering, right? Those earliest of universities were just handing out degrees in irrational mathematics, no? The idea that the Arts have snuck up on the federal government and scared them with their presence is laughable at best.

When pressed for a timeline, Hajdu said that we could start to see some of these changes to include the Arts in “late 2018” at the earliest. So to those of you who plan on graduating before then, enjoy sourcing out your work-relevant experience, all the while making sure you pass all your classes.

“The STEAM acronym perfectly encapsulates the government’s attitude toward incorporating the Arts: bury the Arts in the areas that matter and hope that it is enough to shut them up.” – Dane Sauve

Anyone who is at least remotely familiar with our government’s track record should in no way be surprised with their attitude towards the Arts. The Canadian government continues to violate the rights set for Indigenous individuals in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, undermining their sovereignty in favor of establishing ski resorts and pipelines. How can we possibly expect them to put money towards Indigenous Studies students to ensure they have equal opportunities?

Anyone questioning this statement can quickly look at the rights defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the basis for the TRC) and see how fast we fall short. Maybe when we begin to see the government take these issues seriously, we can hope for change elsewhere, but until that point, the outlook appears bleak.

These attitudes trickle down even past the governmental level. In a recent meeting with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, they explained their take on Student Experiential Learning was to seek out opportunities for the STEM and business fields actively, while simply giving money to the university for the Arts students.

Speaking of the university, one needs to look no further than our very own Laurentian to see how quickly this institution agrees with the government. Go and examine the budget cuts to all Arts fields and library, and you can see just how closely our school aligns itself with the government regarding the allocation of resources.

Despite the fact that most Arts students have felt the effects of marginalization here at Laurentian, it is increasingly disheartening to see the same pattern so evident at the level of the Federal government. While the promise of examining the gap of representation of Arts students in the Youth Employment Program seems promising, it is unlikely that any meaningful change will appear within the first round of addressing the problem despite the protest of some concerned students.

The voices of the discontented Arts students were among the minority (as per usual), and these opinions got lost in a sea of STEM-related questions and comments. At the meetings close there was the customary round of applause and the shaking of hands. But if one paid close attention and blocked out the self-serving affirmations and photo opportunities, you could hear Arts programs slowly falling by the wayside all across Canada.

This is not an article meant to take away from those students that benefit from this program. For all of you in STEM and business fields that can take advantage of this opportunity, good for you.

However, Hajdu, if you truly stand by your statement of “ensuring every Canadian has a fair shot at success,” like it says on your online government profile, then we have a lot of work to do.