On Wednesday, I submitted my independent major proposal. It was just a click of a button on an online form, but it felt like a giant step towards having something to be proud of. The major isn’t even approved and I feel excited! After documenting the submission on snapchat, I began fielding a lot of questions–about the process, my major, my plans for the future–that I’d only really addressed with a handful of people. Since the Bryn Mawr website is a bit reticent when it comes to independent majors and there isn’t much of a community, I thought I’d try to explain the process as I’m encountering it.
First of all: what? I’m (hopefully) majoring in film and media studies, an interdisciplinary field that is currently only a minor here at Bryn Mawr. If my proposal is accepted, this will be my second major alongside anthropology. This field is pretty recognizable and straightforward, but I know other independent majors whose studies are a bit more difficult to summarize. Basically, an independent major is designed by the student when they feel that the preexisting programs do not suit their needs. This is obviously a lot more complicated than the already-difficult process of choosing and completing a major, so I only know of two other students whose majors were approved (though that’s just off the top of my head and I haven’t really sought anyone out).
Next up: why? Why would I want to submit myself to the many difficulties of double majoring, especially when one of the majors is independent and therefore lacks any conventional support system? I’m sure the answers are different for each and every independent major, but they all probably boil down to one thing: passion. I love film. I took an incredible two-year course in high school that reignited an interest I’d put on the back burner after middle school. I wasn’t able to take a film course during my first semester at Bryn Mawr, and I felt incomplete. I jumped at any chance to write about a movie in my classes. I came to Bryn Mawr planning to minor in film, but as I found myself losing interest in studying abroad, the idea popped into my head: I should just major in it.
Okay then: how? Declaring an independent major is not nearly as simple as saying I want to watch movies all the time. I met with my dean, I met with potential major advisers, I met with my anthropology adviser, I met with my dean again, I met with other independent majors–and I did all of this before I even started writing anything down. The proposal itself requires a list of courses I’d taken that I could use for the major, a list of courses I planned to take, and a list of alternate courses because I can’t predict the future. Each course needed to have a blurb explaining why it would be helpful for my studies. I had to demonstrate the interdisciplinary-ness of my major. And I had to write a proposal explaining what I wanted to study, why I needed to do it this way, what I might use this for in the future, and even what I might do for a thesis/capstone project. On top of that, I had to provide three letters of support: one from my dean and two from faculty members who have agreed to be my advisers. Now that I’ve submitted all of those materials, I’m actually not that much closer to being done. The independent major committee will review my proposal, interview me, and probably ask me to some changes before I submit it again. And possibly again.
Despite how awesome I and my advisers might consider my proposal to be, there is always a chance of rejection. I have a friend whose gender and sexuality major was approved after an extremely long revision process, but I also know of someone whose education major was rejected after she revised it. Since I already have an established major, the committee could just insist that I stick to minoring in film. Or, they could see my other major as a source of support that will enable me to better complete my independent major. They’ve approved many film/media studies proposals in the past, but that doesn’t mean they’ll like mine. My dean is head of the committee, so she knows how driven and prepared I am, but she also knows that I sometimes have trouble with deadlines. It all feels very hit-or-miss, and I’m trying not to have it on my mind constantly.
One of the most common questions I am asked is, “so what are you going to do with that?” I think that people are often confused by the combination of anthropology and film, though I see the two as not only compatible but more “practical” when combined. I have a lot to say in response to that question–as do liberal arts students everywhere–but for now, I’ll leave it at this: have you ever watched a documentary? or a foreign film? or been to a museum? or a film festival? Yeah.
As I wait to hear back about my fate (I can’t help but think of it in such dramatic terms), I’ve been trying to distract myself by throwing myself wholeheartedly into my work. Okay, I’m actually really focused on preparing for WTF week (T minus 1.5 days!!!), but I promise I’m doing work too! Anyways, the whole process makes me think of a quote by Terry Pratchett: “The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”