Vanderbilt students visit Capitol Hill to champion the real-world impact of humanities 

On National Humanities Alliance’s advocacy day in D.C., through a series of meetings and a social media campaign, Vanderbilt students advocated for federal funding to support the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH is the federal agency dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities. The students showcased how the study of the humanities has driven American innovation throughout history in broad-ranging areas from technology to health care.  

This effort was part of the Robert Penn Warren Center’s Humanities in the Real World: Undergraduate Advocacy Fellowship in collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations. 

“In an era of budgetary constraints, federal funding for the humanities is more crucial than ever. As our students advocate for the NEH, they are championing the foundational principles of knowledge, inquiry and cultural understanding that underpin our society’s progress,” said Heather Bloemhard, associate director of federal relations at Vanderbilt.   

Students Farouk Ramzan and Jaylan Sims produced videos for social media connecting the humanities across a diverse array of professions. One video highlighted that when Robert Oppenheimer developed the technological advancements for the atomic bomb, he also had to grapple with the ethical considerations of the technology. In another video, students discussed how neurosurgeon and author Paul Kalanithi wrote that as his medical training progressed, he felt it more necessary to understand history, culture and philosophy. These figures are examples of how the students hope to apply the principles of the humanities to their studies and future careers to become more well-rounded thinkers. Both sophomores, Ramzan is studying psychology and economics, and Sims is studying communications and Jewish studies.  

In D.C., Armani Dill and Aashi Gurijala met with Tennessee lawmakers to share the influence of NEH funding on the real world and their education at Vanderbilt. They built on the social media campaign and highlighted how studying the humanities is helping them develop skills in communication and narrative as well as analytical and critical thinking skills that are essential for future careers. Dill and Gurijala met with the congressional offices of Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., and Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., BA’81, JD’84. Dill is a sophomore studying French and law, history, society and politics, and Gurijala is a junior studying neuroscience and creative writing. 

Reflecting on the experience, Gurijala said: “Participating in the advocacy day was a life-changing opportunity. The conversations with congressmen, fellow advocates and other students alike underscored the importance of communicating experiences for the education and continual elevation of humanities endeavors.”   

“The advocacy day was a wonderful experience, and it served as a great opportunity to directly communicate the necessity of funding the humanities,” Dill added. “The humanities have supported me throughout my academic and professional career, helping me develop skills and find the words to articulate what is important to me, so it was great to use those same skills on the Hill to advocate for the classes and programs that allowed me to develop them.”    

By sharing the intersection of the humanities with the real world, the students emphasized the importance of robust federal funding for humanities research and education, using the skills they have developed through their studies and the fellowship.