By Bella DiMeo ’25

When I declared as a humanities major at the beginning of this year, I could never have guessed that my passion for this field would take me out of Durham, much less to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. However, as Duke University’s advocate for National Humanities Advocacy Day this past month, I had the opportunity to directly discuss the importance of federal humanities funding with lawmakers and their staff in Washington, DC.

When I came to Duke, I was excited to explore my passion for the Classics and Political Science, but I was disappointed to see I was one of the few, not of the many. Among the top five majors at Duke last year, Computer Science, Economics, Public Policy, Biology, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, the humanities are notably absent. 

As one of 5 Classical Civilizations majors in my year at Duke, I wanted to try and find ways to represent my field through research and engage in my community through my studies. Shortly after I began this search, through my internship with the Office of Government Relations I was afforded the opportunity to work with the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) as part of their Spring advocacy efforts. 

The NHA is an organization that advocates for federal humanities funding and makes a case for its public value. I felt especially excited about this opportunity because President Biden’s 2022 Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, Humanities, and Library Sciences showed a new focus on the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which the NHA directly supports. 

My fellow advocates on Capitol Hill were Dr. Candace Bailey and Dr. Prudence Layne, professors at North Carolina Central University and Elon University respectively, who both had experience collaborating with the NEH and the NHA. 

During my trip, I had the opportunity to speak with staffers from the offices of Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Representatives Valerie Foushee (D-NC) and Deborah Ross (D-NC) about the importance of the humanities opportunities for the younger generations as the field becomes less popular. My goal during these meetings was to try to present myself as an example of what this work and funding could do, and the type of global citizens the humanities helps to create. I spoke about my individual experience as a lifelong student of the humanities and the value of my chosen field. Together, we discussed the programming the NHA supports in North Carolina, the importance of the humanities as a field, and the national impacts of humanities support such as preserving the material heritage of the country through the National Archives. 

Overall, the trip strengthened my passion for the arts and humanities and was a helpful step forward in my experiences in advocacy. As a young person and a student, I know I still have much to learn and many experiences to gain in the Humanities and beyond, but the encouraging words from staffers and my fellow advocates made me feel I have a place in the advocacy space. Participating in National Humanities Advocacy Day allowed me to discover my voice on an issue near and dear to my heart. I felt supported by the organization I was advocating for and inspired by the individuals with whom I was advocating. I look forward to continuing my journey in the Humanities with a greater awareness of my studies’ impact as a lifelong advocate.