Thoughts From Places: Barnum 113

On Mondays, I spend three consecutive hours in Barnum Hall. I make my way past the Jumbo statue and enter by the stone lions that guard the doors. In the façade etched into the stone, the building declares itself home of the biology department. As I wander through the labyrinth of far-too-yellow hallways, past the posters of enlarged unicellular organisms and the occasional historical graphics about P.T. Barnum and our beloved mascot, I shuffle around my bag to pull out the week’s readings. By the time I make it to room 113, I’m clutching three printouts and a notebook, but there is no biology textbook in sight — a phenomenon made possible by the fact that I am indeed in a fictional writing class in Barnum, and not an introductory biology course.

In a brief journey to class, it becomes clear that a single hall contains a mixture of Tufts cultures. While at first this may seem simply ternary — combining biology, history and English — Barnum actually serves as a representation of the spectrum that is Tufts. In the heart of the Department of Biology’s home, where STEM majors and pre-meds flaunt their prowess in the sciences, Barnum 113 reminds us that there will always be more to life and education at Tufts and beyond. The juxtaposition of the quintessential hard science and the stereotypical liberal arts study is as ironic as it is profound.

If students rushing to Cell Biology or Bioinformatics just take a minute to observe the commemorative posters on the walls of their most frequented building on campus (although Tisch Library often vies for this title), it may be easier for them to identify the origins of the hall and its namesake. Had Phineas Taylor Barnum attended Tufts University today, it is unlikely that he would have found himself among those who love the hard sciences. Perhaps his preference would have been in the so-called ‘fake majors’ of the liberal arts, and his minor in the underappreciated entrepreneurial sciences.

With the knowledge that I am a budding pre-med student, I can say that the echo chamber of the hard sciences discounts the beauty of this university. Due to the the nature of complicated scientific courses, it is unlikely their non-STEM major will change in the near future. It is equally improbable that a future biochemist will take “Concepts of the Cosmos.” Therefore, the burden to transform mere juxtaposition into an intertwined discussion lies with those on both sides of the academic isle. An intro-level science course could balance out a major in film and media studies. In the same breath, beginner level fiction writing or “Introduction to Acting” would build bridges toward stimulating conversation for a student interested in applied physics.

While there are several months between the publication of this article and when SIS re-opens for second semester scheduling, I hope you all keep this article in mind when the time comes. We applied to a “mid-sized, student based, Liberal Arts Research University,” and it will soon be our chance to show why we belong here.