A Whole Understanding
Michael Pearson '06
Pitzer strongly emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary studies. One of our educational objectives states, “By integrating the perspectives of several disciplines, students gain an understanding of the powers and limits of each field and of the kind of contribution each can make; students learn how to understand phenomena as a complex whole.” It seems impractical to limit your thought, research, and education to a single discipline. Professor Dana Ward has certainly made it impossible for me to talk about politics without thinking about psychology, and vice versa. He has taught me the importance of thinking about the connectedness of the academic world.
Many people say that before you can fully understand a particular issue you need to hear both sides. I used to be one of those people. Now that I am a Pitzer senior, I understand that this idea is outdated. There is inevitably more than two ways to look at an issue. Professor Ward, both as a teacher and as an adviser, has been instrumental to my understanding of this.
To truly “understand phenomena as a complex whole” you must look at it from different disciplines. For instance, you cannot sufficiently look at the struggle of indigenous people around the world from only a Political Studies perspective; you would need to look at the anthropological, historical, psychological and other effects as well. Seeing how different fields’ perspectives pertain to a single issue will prove to you how interconnected the academic world really is. The more I think about interdisciplinary studies, the more I realize that everything is related, which makes terms like Political Studies or psychology seem like just that: terms. I think people realize the importance of interdisciplinary studies, and the focus in the future of academia will be similar to what Pitzer proposes. Now, this may be too bold to say with complete confidence, but it does have some merit. At least it did in my personal case.
Just like so many other Pitzer students, when I came here as a first-year I had no idea what I wanted my academic focus to be. I came from a high school that had no electives; my entire curriculum and course load was chosen for me. As you might imagine, coming to Pitzer was a big shock; I felt like I was drowning in options. I wanted to take every class in the catalogue, or at least get the full “sample platter:” a little anthropology here, some Environmental Studies there, oh, and throw in a Media Studies course or two. Of course, I changed my mind about my major four times before finally settling on what I thought was going to be my final decision: a double major in Political Studies and psychology. Then Professor Ward started talking about creating a special major in Political Psychology. He realized that a more interdisciplinary approach would be better for me, because I was always talking about how politics and psychology affected each other. Eventually I filled out my last major declaration form (hopefully).
I have been working on my political psychology thesis with Professor Ward for a semester now. I formulated the idea in his political psychology class. One of my assignments was to come up with a political psychology research design. To do this you have to incorporate politics and psychology, thereby making it inherently interdisciplinary. I am doing research on the correlation between moral reasoning and indigenous rights advocacy. It has been fascinating to learn about the importance of interdisciplinary studies from Professor Ward; this is a lesson that I will definitely keep with me.