3 Questions with Emily Griffen

“Austin Sarat called me and said, ‘Emily, we’re gonna save the humanities. Are you in?’” Emily Griffen, executive director of the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning, laughed recalling the grandiosity of his pitch. But it was “an easy yes,” she added. And now Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, and Griffen have joined forces to launch the new Arts and Humanities in Action (AHA) program, which debuted in the January Interterm. The program, which will continue with follow-up sessions throughout the spring semester, has brought together a pod of students, faculty, Loeb staff and alumni to connect the dots between arts and humanities studies and concrete career paths. So far, 14 first-year students have completed an immersive week with faculty and visiting alumni on campus, plus a daylong career trek to Boston. I sat down with Griffen to learn more about the program, its impetus and where it’s going.

Q. Why was there a need for a program like this?

A: We need to connect career conversations more firmly to the real experience of students who are pursuing arts and humanities degrees—it’s an ambiguous pathway. We wanted to show how the skills that you’re developing through deep study in humanities and arts disciplines are the same skills showing up in the workplace: communication, the ability to work on a team and more. These are not soft skills; they’re not wishy-washy.  

Q. How are the faculty contributing so far?

A: Darryl Harper ’90 (music) talked to the students about the myth of the starving artist. Kiara Vigil (American studies) talked about the multiple modes of storytelling, which really dovetailed into my work with the students around résumés and cover letters being a form of storytelling. Austin Sarat talked about careers of compliance versus careers of authority—and he used Melville’s Billy Budd to illuminate this!  

Q: Can you speak to the role of alumni networking?

A: We had four alumni speak to us on campus (three over Zoom), and we met with four more on our Boston trek. They included an executive at Google, the head of strategy for an educational equity think tank, and an alum who works in marketing at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. And they all spoke about studying the humanities and how that built a bridge to what they’re doing now. What came up again and again, even for business professionals making decisions based on quantitative information, is that it’s about writing, communicating, close reading, building relationships. 

I’ve been so excited about this program, and we’re asking ourselves how we could scale the learning to reach more students. One thing they need is a boost in confidence—to know they can pursue their academic interests, and there will be a world of opportunity on the other side.