GOOD GRIEF: I give a damn about our reputation

Matilda Swartz

I was quite certain upon the submission of my Common Application that I wanted to be a communication major. The decision to pursue this field was, and is, something I take seriously, because it is something I reap joy from. Charge me with foolish optimism, but I find it logical for people to pursue paths (in the undergraduate realm or elsewhere) that concern what they want, what they love or could learn to love. Paths that appear to be less challenging, more practical or more suitable to Mom/Dad/guidance counselor’s needs are dead ends.

The communication department is hailed as the largest area of study within the College of Arts and Sciences. It boasts a growing faculty, published professors and students, a hypermodern curriculum and ways to tailor the major better than Lady Gaga’s bodysuits. These are all of the high points made clear at info sessions, on campus tours and in brochure marginalia. But, over more than two years around these parts, I have discovered that communication students get a less-than-stellar rap. 

I will never forget a scene from a Pit lunch last fall. I was among a group of fellow then-sophomores when one girl with whom I was barely acquainted informed the table that she was “majoring in communication and honors, because communication is, like, the dumb major. You need something to go with it.” Oh. I suppose Ron Livingston and I both missed the memo that fateful day.

All I have done since freshman year is defensively field blows regarding the mentality of communication majors, but this girl’s comments showed me many reasons why. Let us put aside the accusation that communication is a less-intellectually stimulating subject matter than say, biochemistry (don’t burn me at the stake yet, Mendel-dwellers. I respect your large brains and the fact that you not only have them but could dissect them too). Communication, as I have learned, can be as empirical and nit-picky on the variables as any laboratory procedure. Then there is “like.” I know it is the crutch of our generation, but when someone who is required to have taken public speaking and maybe even voice and diction is using the L-word more than any female character in “Clueless,” something is, like, wrong. I hear it in all four of my current communication classes, be it pre-class chatter or round table discussion. I am not perfect, but I always self-loathe a bit when I catch myself uttering it.

Regarding my classes: This is the first time at Villanova that I have been so immersed in my major, a bit overwhelming from a clock-is-ticking perspective. Fresh on the brain are memories of syllabus week, the “Getting to Know You” days that professors must relish to the point of dry-heaves. Heaving is what I did in one of my upper-level classes as we were asked to go around the room, introduce ourselves, our specializations, aspirations, intentions for taking the course and hobbies.We rotated around the court-room (Garey Hall being the new mother ship of our department), and I calculated a consensus: At least 70 percent of the class enrolled for this particular course because “it seems, like, interesting,” but an even greater fraction of the class considered “friends and family” to be their hobby of choice. I love to partake in bonding activities with my friends and family as much if not more than the next undergrad, but two nouns don’t make a right, or in this case a verb. I fantasize about communication majors expressing their likes and dislikes with utmost eloquence, but these experiences make me wonder if the heat we take is (partially) deserved. 

The department’s online home page offers up its mission: “To produce well-rounded communicators who are capable of speaking and listening well, thinking critically and writing clearly.” Great expectations and even greater intentions are sent down from the facultative end of the major; all individuals who march into the Garey offices to complete the canary yellow Major Declaration form should house more than a fleeting, half-assed desire to fulfill the established goal. The notion of making the department more selective in accepting students seems simultaneously ludicrous and intriguing; when you are the largest slice of the College, being choosy is affordable. The first-round hurdle in gaining admittance would be simple: an interview in which the interviewer inconspicuously tallies the interviewee’s usage of “like.” Ten or more? Thanks, but no thanks. 

Matilda Swartz is a junior communication major from Highland Park, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].