Strumming dexterous fingers along the strings of her acoustic guitar, Genedi Muniz is the epitome of ease. Leaves rustling from a passing breeze set the ambiance for the song she plays: A rendition of “Shallow” by Lady Gaga.
Although she keeps her appearance lowkey by wearing a Montclair State hoodie and jeans, she is far from simple. Muniz is a linguistics major at Montclair State University and is fascinated by the many ways people communicate with one another.
Muniz finds all forms of expression interesting. She is a polyglot who speaks five languages – English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and American Sign Language (ASL) – and finds interest in the spoken and written word. She also finds other artistic forms of expression, such as art and music, very compelling. She is self-taught in the guitar and is currently teaching herself how to play the violin and penny flute.
Her motto – actions speak louder than words – holds especially true for her passion in ASL. She admits growing up she was very shy and uncomfortable verbalizing her thoughts.
“My first encounter with ASL was at the age of 11 when I had to learn the alphabet for class,” Muniz said. “It just struck a chord with me, since it shared the aspect of language I mainly pay attention to.”
That first experience reaffirmed for her that a language doesn’t have to be strictly verbal to be understood or accepted. ASL has become her favorite form of communication for its focus on body language and the elaborate meanings behind signs. She explained this over lunch, where she revealed another talent of hers: Eating.
A renowned foodie, Muniz finds delight in food as a form of expression. She refuses to name one food as her favorite. She has found each food has a unique quality to it that relates back to a culture. However, she has a close affinity toward cheese, perhaps because this food is diverse and transcends cultural boundaries, much like herself.
Her love for food is closely related to her passion in understanding other cultures. It shows in the way she finds pleasure in trying new things. This curiosity is what lead Muniz to learning more about Deaf culture.
It was not until transferring to Montclair State that she officially fell in love with learning ASL and signing. Montclair State is one of the few schools in New Jersey that offers an ASL minor and the ASL/English Interpreting concentration.
She not only gives credit to Montclair State for fostering her passion for language and ASL but also for inspiring her interest in its application within technology. Recently, the field of computational linguistics was made into a master program and has made her consider graduate school.
“I’d hope to do linguistic research and analysis for a tech company,” Muniz said. “I see myself working within the fields of machine learning and translation technology, since I enjoy those areas the most.”
Nonetheless, she is keeping her options open for now.
Although Montclair State seems to be living up to its promise that “It’s all here,” there might be something it is missing. One thing that concerns Muniz is the lack of resources outside of the classroom available to students looking to maintain acquisition and practice of ASL year-round.
Even though professors are a big resource in providing students with external resources and events to attend within the Deaf community, she feels more can be done.
“An ASL club wasn’t in place when I matriculated, but I think that would be a step in the right direction for students looking to be actively involved beyond just taking ASL classes,” Muniz said.
Muniz and a few other linguistic students have joined together to re-establish the ASL club at Montclair State. She is very excited about the potential of reforming the ASL club, but not much can be said about it yet. It has not been chartered, but they hope to rectify the situation soon.
Although it was a bit discouraging to hear that others have attempted and failed to re-establish the club in the past, she is optimistic that things will work out this time around.
“Hopefully this one will have the results we’ve been waiting for,” Muniz said.
A good amount of students have already showed interest. She is hoping the club will attract members of the Deaf community at Montclair State to socialize and sign with learners of ASL.
Muniz’s goal is to have her and her colleagues leave a successful legacy behind by the time they graduate. She hopes to bring the hearing and Deaf communities on campus closer together through awareness to encourage other students to maintain that community.
However, her aspirations go beyond her time at Montclair State. Muniz plans to aid in bridging the gap between ASL and technology. This is a challenge she is looking forward to taking on.