Talking about humanities impact at a national level

HRI David F. Prindable intern Hafsa Faruqi spoke with Jessica Vargas, a senior majoring in political science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Vargas was part of the university delegation attending National Humanities Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. on March 10–12, 2024. Faruqi spoke with Vargas to learn more about her experiences in D.C., her humanities education at Illinois, and her future plans. 

Can you describe your experience attending NHA Advocacy Day?

There were probably 20 undergrads there in total. It was nerve wracking, but I figured we all have something to share. We all have a stake in it. Once I got familiar with what we were doing, how we were going to go about it, and that everyone from Illinois was there to support as well—it was a lot more comfortable after I got in the swing of things.

What are your key takeaways?

There is a lot we learned about the conversations, what you should ask for, and what your approach should be. One of the things I took with me to the meetings—when we finally spoke to the staffers of our representatives—I learned how to talk about the impact of humanities beyond my experience.

I talked about my experience with We CU Community Engaged Scholars' Humanities in Action (HIA) program, how it centers community outreach, rather than the program just staying in the university. A lot of times the university and the local community are two separate things, but Humanities in Action bridges those gaps and extends the humanities into the community as well.

After attending NHA Day, what can you say is being done for the humanities?

What I picked up from the meetings with the staffers is that there are other avenues to secure funding, and having conversations with the people who are informed could help make sure that we get funds for programs that need it. We went there to emphasize the need for humanities education.

I was able to give my experience from K–12 and how the humanities impacted me then. My middle school was not like a traditional middle school. It was a magnet school where we learned more about Latin American History. Having a democratic representative in-the-know about the education programs that we have helps them better advocate for humanities funding. 

How can Illinois students participate in NHA Advocacy Day in the future?

There is room for undergrads to share their experiences. I’m a social science major in political science. I have a minor in gender and women’s studies. Students who are involved with humanities can directly talk about their courses and how their major is impacted by the funding that we receive. There’s also so many awesome programs on campus that are humanities-based.

Students who study different disciplines, like STEM, also have humanities interests. They can speak on that, as well. A lot of people think the humanities are just history or art. Sharing the importance of humanities in those other fields is a good explanation for why we need funding.

How have your on-campus involvements contributed to your interest in community engagement? 

I am involved in the Latino Student Association (LSA), which does community building for the Latino population of students at the University of Illinois. LSA does a Mother's Day event, where people can bring their mothers, and that helps a lot of us feel more comfortable on campus where a lot of us are first-gen (first generation students), or we are not very comfortable in a university setting until we find our people. Hosting those events and being around people from similar backgrounds gets rid of imposter syndrome. It gives us a place to be, and those events really foster that environment for all of us.

What are your post graduation plans?

Post-graduation, I have decided to take a gap year, and I want to do community service. I applied to the Education Justice Project (EJP)’s internship program. EJP provides resources to incarcerated individuals in Danville. They provide individuals resources and support to make sure that they don’t end up incarcerated again. I have personal connections to incarceration, and I have a passion for social justice and criminal justice. After my gap year, I intend to apply and attend law school. If I get the EJP internship, it would be a great bridge between community engagement work that I’ve been doing and my future career in criminal law.

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