LoveND: Falling for American Studies

Author: Hailey Oppenlander

Hailey Web Fun

Dear Notre Dame, 

During Welcome Weekend, I met a total of one other American Studies major. 

Every time I told someone what my major was, I was hopeful that others might overhear and exclaim “me too!” While I met what seemed like a hundred people who were “Mendoza – undecided” or one of the many options for those with med school aspirations, I remained tragically alone. 

How did I come into college with a major that most people have never even heard of?

The simple answer: I watched a video.

That was all it took. Maybe two minutes long, this video from the College of Arts and Letters featured a student describing what American Studies majors are like – what they study, what skills they gain, and what they’re passionate about. 

The first time I watched the video, I was a senior in high school. I liked my history and English classes best out of all the subjects, and I tossed around the idea of majoring in either of those, but something just didn’t sit right with me. I wanted to continue reading and learning about historical events, but in a way where past events and literature illuminated present struggles. What I also wanted was something interdisciplinary – classes where one day I could look at pieces of art, the next I’d be reading a novel, and the next I’d be analyzing a film. 

The video convinced me to apply to Notre Dame as an American Studies major, and taking the intro class my first semester confirmed that I wanted to spend the rest of my four years studying the interaction between the dominant and alternative narratives of U.S. history and apply them to modern situations. American Studies majors do study everything – from the way that high school textbooks can present a distorted view of history, to the presence of racial segregation in neighborhoods today, to how gender stereotypes are expressed in our society. 

I loved my American Studies major, but I knew that since it was 30 credit hours, I could pursue another major or minor if I wanted. Last year as I interviewed a sociology student for work, I realized that the way she studied the social factors behind societal problems fit so well with what I’d already learned in my American Studies classes. After the interview, I looked more into the sociology major and discovered that our Department of Sociology houses a Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, something I’d been interested in studying since high school. I began taking my first sociology classes last semester, and I loved them.

Sociology is the perfect complement to American Studies. It lets me take classes with more focus on quantitative research skills, and it emphasizes the interplay between biography, history, and the structure of society. Just like American studies, it still allows me to contemplate the injustices in society in the hopes that, as Fr. Sorin said, we can truly be “a powerful force for good.”

Recently, I was talking to a friend about how if I had extra room in my schedule, I wouldn’t take an elective; I would honestly want to take more American Studies and sociology classes if I could! 

My friend responded, “Well, that’s how you know you’ve picked the right majors!”

Even though it’s such a simple observation, it’s so true. 

Pick a major that you truly love, one that you can’t help but share what you’ve learned with family and friends, one that motivates you to attend classes every day, and one that brings you deep joy and fulfillment. 





P.S. President Bartlett from The West Wing was an American Studies major at Notre Dame... if you weren’t already sold.