The Humanities Marketplace As a Circle of Hell

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After earning two undergraduate degrees and a graduate degree, Athena Lathos, a self-described “Friendly Neighborhood Millennial,” still struggles to find adequate work, even in academia. Like many of us writer types, she had to work retail while applying to numerous other jobs that never contacted her back.

On her blog Bertha Mason’s Attic, Lathos shares her travails as a humanities major in the job market, as she tries to imagine that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t another dumpster fire. It isn’t as if she doesn’t recognize the pitfalls of her academic pursuits. It’s just that our capitalistic culture rewards too few people for them. The beauty is that her blog post makes her abilities evident: her wit, intellect, narration mixed with analysis, the engaging narrative voice, self-awareness, and deprecation so essential to compelling, insightful personal nonfiction. Please, someone help this talented, passionate writer and scholar find a job deserving of her.

Before I finished graduate school, I met with a career counselor at OSU and explained that I might like to pursue a career where I could remain part of university life, i.e. as a low-level administrator. For jobs even at that tier, she told me I would likely need another MA in “Higher Education Administration.” Really? Another MA? That I would have to pay in full for? To use the same programs and software that I had already been using as an instructor at OSU? Okay.

I heard her, but I also ended up applying to a lot of entry-level admin jobs, most of which amounted to working as a receptionist. I didn’t get any interviews.

After a summer of job searching, and increasingly desperate for cash, I began working retail at a local bookstore, thinking that I could continue looking for a position while I earned minimum wage. I ended up there for a year. Every few months, I was given tasks that increased in complexity and responsibility – everything from daily bookkeeping to making bank deposits for the store – while being told it wasn’t likely I would ever get a raise beyond a cashier’s minimum wage. At the store, nearly all of us had a college education or more, but we were treated like high schoolers with little to no intelligence. For example, one member of upper management referred to us as “the blind leading the blind.” Another, when I gave my two weeks notice, assumed it was because I was starting college as a freshman in the fall, expressing utter shock after she learned that I was 24 with an MA degree. In addition to those comments, there was the daily drudgery of being condescended to and degraded by everyone’s favorite I-must-speak-to-the-manager-immediately shoppers, who a) routinely berate you for store policies you have no control over and b) treat you like a thoughtless robot.

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