Interview with Humanities Award Recipient Stephanie Barcan
The following is an interview with Stephanie Barcan, the 2021 recipient of the Jennifer Harris Memorial Humanities Award.
Q: First of all, congratulations on winning this year’s Jennifer Harris Memorial Humanities Award! What are your plans for next year and the future?
A: Thank you very much! I am so grateful for this award! When it comes to my plans for the future, I will be starting my undergraduate studies at McGill University this fall with a Major in Psychology and a Minor in Anthropology. As such, through my university studies I aim to continue the study of humanity mainly from a psychological and anthropological perspective, but also from various others in the form of elective classes. During my bachelor I will also have the opportunity to engage in psychological research, which I would like to use to further my understanding of human perspectives as pertaining to various cultures and/or ethnicities. My study of Humanities completed at Dawson College will greatly serve me to be able to explore these topics in my courses and/or research. Furthermore, I would like to do graduate studies in Psychology and eventually get licensed as a Clinical Psychologist so I can use the wealth of knowledge acquired through academia and put it into practice in a clinical setting, thus directly providing my help to the various people struggling in their daily lives.
Q: What was, or which were, your favourite Humanities course(s) and why?
A: While all the Humanities courses I had the pleasure to take at Dawson College were enlightening and provided me with new and interesting perspectives on understanding various peoples and societies, the Humanities course that left the deepest impression on me would be Evolution (345-101-MQ), taught by Professor Rui De Sousa, which I took in my first semester (Fall 2019) at Dawson. This is due to how this course opened my eyes to facts about biological evolution that I had been previously deprived of due to my religious Romanian upbringing. As such, growing up I had been taught that biological evolution is a heresy: a false concept that aims to undermine God’s importance in the creation of humanity. Thus, I had become blinded to the truth of how humanity was birthed on this planet and of how we have developed over hundreds of thousands of years and had thus been made unable to use my critical thinking to question the dogmas of the Church. However, while taking this course and learning more about evolution, I was made to see the beautiful randomness with which our planet operates and gain a wider appreciation for the present, as the future remains unknown. Moreover, learning about this deepened my bond with nature, as I learned that all living beings come from one common ancestor. Overall, this Humanities course effectively pulled the veil from my eyes and showed me the raw and simple truth: that humans are no more special on this planet than an insect or a tree.
Q: What’s the most important concept or idea you encountered in your Humanities courses at Dawson? Why is this important?
A: Throughout my Humanities courses at Dawson College the idea of approaching history, science, and philosophy from an unbiased perspective has most deeply affected me. As such, in my first Humanities course at Dawson, learning about the concept of evolution and about the difficulty with which Charles Darwin, who discovered it, brought this essential information to the wider public, I was able to see how religious human bias had almost succeeded to keep the scientific truth of evolution away from the wider public. While this bias was ultimately overcome and the concept of evolution has made its way into various fields of study and has become easily accessible to the public, one can see the threat that human bias has on the upholding of the truth. Furthermore, in my second Humanities course (Winter 2020), World Views of the Ancients (345-102-MQ), also taught by Professor Rui De Sousa, the significant threat of bias was displayed through the history of the conquest and dismantling of Aztec society by the Spaniards. As such, I understood how this came about, in great part, due to a lack of cultural understanding between the two nations, each seeing the other as morbid and animalistic due to their different ways of handling death. Therefore, the cultural bias the Spaniards harboured against the Aztecs fuelled their dehumanization of the latter and made possible their colonization, as they felt they had the duty to civilize the Aztecs. As such, one can see how, if these two peoples would have overcome their biases and put in the effort to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s culture, Aztec society might not have been razed by the Spaniards and colonization might not have occurred. Lastly, the power of human bias, in this case religious, can also be seen through the common misunderstanding of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, of which I learned in my third and last Humanities course at Dawson (Winter 2021), Science-fiction and Ethics (345-BXH-DW), taught by Professor Gregory Polakoff. As such, while Nietzsche’s philosophy spoke of the importance of upholding humanity’s right to live freely, thus opposing the oppressive dogmas of the Church of his time, it was commonly misunderstood due to his use of ‘heretic’ words such as “Antichrist” and his reference to God’s death, which triggered the public’s religious biases and labeled him as a heretic. As such, important philosophical concepts were ignored by a great part of the public due to simple human bias. Overall, all three of the Humanities courses I have taken at Dawson College have taught me the importance of harbouring an unbiased perspective and of putting effort into understanding different manners of perceiving the world.
Q: We live in a world where economic productivity and technical efficiency are increasingly prioritized over subjects like philosophy, history, art etc., what do you think the Humanities offer Dawson students? Why should students take these courses?
A: While our society tends to undervalue the Humanities and to portray them as unimportant, these types of courses are instead becoming increasingly significant in education. As such, in a capitalist society that aims to transform human beings into useful and efficient machines, learning about different cultural, historical, and philosophical points of view can reconnect students with their humanity. As such, these courses teach students the significance of individuality and of the maintaining and cherishing of cultural and individual differences in world views. Furthermore, Humanities courses underline the importance of understanding how world views and philosophy have historically played an important role in the shaping of society. This can be observed in the example given in my previous answer regarding the Spaniards’ conquest of the Aztecs, as the Spaniards’ world view partly triggered their ambition to take over and destroy the highly developed Aztec civilization. As such, Humanities courses teach students the importance of dedicating themselves to the understanding of various world cultures and of important historical events. Moreover, in doing so, Humanities courses develop students’ ability to use their critical thinking, a skill that is imperative not only to the study of Humanities but also in doing scientific research.