In her column, Henrike writes about her experience with Interdisciplinarity within the University of Amsterdam. What are the pro’s and cons?

A few days ago the UvA sent out an email to its students offering us a chance to “Expand [our] view with Interdisciplinary elective courses”. The programs being promoted have adventure-promising titles, such as ‘Big History’, ‘Radical Imagination’ or just ‘India’. There it is, they dropped the magical word: Interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinarity is what it’s all about these days, some examples of this include PPLE, Amsterdam University College with Liberal Arts and Sciences and Beta Gamma. To be honest, I’m not a student of any of these courses and the last thing I want to do is come and judge. I come to share observations that I, as someone who took a minor in a different faculty than their Bachelors, have made.

So, as it is with every good essay, here are some definitions to start you off. From my experience, there are several truths about university. One is what we’ve already talked about: Interdisciplinarity in academia is a prominent trend these days. Another thing that can be said about university is that, and without wanting to generalise, as much as this does not apply for every student, it can be said that there are a large amount of students that fulfil stereotypes that are often ascribed to their programs. I am a solid example of this. Initially, for this column, I wanted to write about Feminism in connection to Digitisation saying that the first can suffer from the latter (according to the World Economic Forum). I also wanted to write about women ruling the government in Rwanda (I’m still gonna write this column later), and so it goes. Guess what I study?

We did talk about different content and our opinions and approaches to them, but they pretty much echoed what we were being taught in our programs

Anyways, here is my experience with interdisciplinarity: This year I took a minor at the Social Sciences faculty. I learned a lot, expanding every foreseeable corner of my horizon. Much of this was also through having people in my seminar groups, that come from different academic backgrounds, and hearing what they had to share. But a few weeks in, I made quite a frustrating observation: we did talk about different content and our opinions and approaches to them, but they pretty much echoed what we were being taught in our programs. In other words, everyone just, subtly continued to follow certain trends and prevalent opinions from each of their Bachelors, with very little actual change of opinions. A lot of us, including me, came into this course and had their views on certain topics already formed, and we didn’t budge. I had the impression that we were all on a crusade to confirm what we already knew and had learnt.  

Here comes the third truth about university: For most of us, university is pretty much brainwashing to some extent. As much as it is great, teaches you a lot of super interesting stuff, and as much as we can be super happy about the opportunity that we are given here, every Bachelor has this aspect of indoctrination. And once you’re in the rabbit hole, it’s hard to see through it.

I have personally developed the theory that there are certain archetypical students who take courses from other programs, they appear to the people in class to be quite opinionated and predictable in their views, typically acting according to their program. But in all of this, I also think that the people who actually make the decision to sneak peek into another faculty are the ones that are the mildest representatives of the stereotype that comes with their program for they are still willing to hear other people’s voices. Or would an anti-capitalist (small hint to the Humanities) take a course on International Political Economy?

The next step, generally, is to gain the ability to actually rethink one’s own opinions

It’s very difficult to disagree with interdisciplinary approaches. Because after all, the CV-top-notch-phrase of ‘expanding one’s horizon’ doesn’t come out of nowhere, it makes sense. My friends are probably already super annoyed by me for talking about the minor so much and they would probably be more annoyed if they knew that I was writing my column about said minor (but luckily it’s the break and we’re all safe in our homes). But after all, this only shows how much my interdisciplinary-experience has influenced me. Again, these are only my personal observations. The next step, generally, is to gain the ability to actually rethink one’s own opinions. Not only to hear other people in order to better outsmart their arguments, but to be able to say: ‘Hey, maybe you are right and I am wrong’.

And how is this connected to communication? Well, all I know is that I am not a Communication Science student and yet I am here writing this column. Here’s another hint: The Bachelor that I study teaches us that there is actually no such thing as universal truth, and identifies a trend towards the death of the Author… Seems like I am a lost cause.

Photo: Jorn van Eck, UvA Beeldbank

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